Television's John Oliver Focuses Program on Bakken; Cites Danger to Workers, Land

In early October, the HBO program Last Week Tonight focused on the story of oil in the Bakken. Although the program is hosted by comedian John Oliver, the underlying tone toward the benefits and destruction the oil boom has caused in theBakken, an area covering parts of North Dakota, Montana, and southern Canada, is quite serious. (The episode can be seen here.)

After a brief survey of the history of the Bakken boom (which one historian calls a California gold rush, only happening in North Dakota) and data that show that the oil from the Bakken has cut the U.S.’s need for imported oil by half, the program turns to data on worker injuries and damage to the land.

The program cites as “horrifying” the rate of fatalities for Bakken workers, an average of one every six weeks. It includes a brief interview with a truck driver who hauls oil, he estimates, 69 hours straight.

Farmers are interviewed as well; one says that part of his land has been “annihilated” by salt water that is a byproduct of drilling. Oliver quotes a New York Times report as saying that 18.4 million gallons of oil were spilled or leaked as oil was being extracted.

The last part of Last Week Tonight examined the few incentives that put pressure on oil companies to protect workers and land. Officials of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are thin on the ground—only 8 cover both the Dakotas—and many companies employ contractors in a way that limits their liability in the case of any accidents.

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