Behind Their Bakken

John Oliver explains why North Dakotans should "be angry" at the oil industry.

October 15, 2015

John Oliver has a message for the famously kind, polite people of North Dakota: “Be Angry. (Please.)” Be angry, that is, at the oil companies taking advantage of their hospitality. The oil boom in the Bakken shale has created thousands of jobs for the state, but on the flip side, it's also spawned a dangerously unregulated industry that's wreaking havoc on the environment and its own workers (as well as small-town society). 

In the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, Oliver explains why the boom has, in many ways, been a major bust. The New York Times reports that since 2006, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals have spilled, leaked, or misted into the air, soil, and waters of North Dakota, with disastrous consequences for surrounding farmland and ecosystems. In that same time, a worker has died every six weeks in the Bakken oil field. Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has just eight fulltime compliance officers to cover both North and South Dakota. “Oil companies in North Dakota pay for their mistakes the same way that four-year-olds pay for their toys,” Oliver says. “Very rarely—and when they do, it’s mostly just a symbolic gesture.” 

He goes on to explain why state officials need to close liability loopholes and hold these companies accountable for the damage they create and the lives they lose. The time to “be polite" has passed.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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