Last Week Tonight/YouTube
John Oliver is known for takedowns on just about everything. In this video he takes on the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Bakken Boondoggle: Watch John Oliver Drill Into North Dakota’s Oil Fields


Until recently, North Dakota, or “South DeCanada,” has been a low-key state content with its rep as the setting for the 1996 movie Fargo starring Frances McDormand and William H. Macy.

“But a few years ago, this happened,” says comedian and pundit John Oliver in the video below. His October 11 takedown of the Bakken on Last Week Tonight was not directed just at the oil fields and the jobs they bring, but also toward the unscrupulous companies and slipshod regulatory practices emerging with the lack of oversight.

“For all the good the oil boom has done for the state, it has not come without cost,” Oliver says, before going on to deride the upheaval and lack of care that is damaging, well, everything.

First off is the environment, he says, spouting statistics as quickly as oil erupting from a busted well. For instance, 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals have spilled in the region, he says, and the danger to the land is only the beginning.

We learn that since 2006, 74 workers have died in the Bakken oil fields. That’s a death every six weeks. There are tales, too, of people working 69 straight hours on a job site.

“It’s a ticking timebomb, really,” Oliver says. Yet there are just nine full-time compliance officers for all of North Dakota, though now there are only eight, for both North and South Dakota, he says.

He also goes into detail about why this one company, Oasis Petroleum, found itself legally and (in its eyes) morally not responsible—that is, liable—for a well explosion that killed one worker in 2011 and drove another to suicide.

These sound like gory, depressing details, and they are. But Oliver, as we know, has a knack for making even the most macabre hypocrisy into a hilarious send-up. If any topic ever cried out for that kind of treatment, this one does. Its 20 minutes goes by in a flash, and you’ll be chuckling all the way.

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