John Oliver pleads with North Dakota to regulate big oil

John Oliver used his long segment on this week’s Last Week Tonight to ridicule the oil industry for taking advantage of the friendly state of North Dakota. As John points out, “North Dakota, or as you may know it, South Da-Canada,” is the last state many would think to visit, and some visitor centers carry “Best for last” merchandise. The state is so wholesome, there are billboards along the highway saying “Be kind” and “Be polite.” As a New York resident, John has some words for those signs, but he has nothing but good things to say about the good people of North Dakota, which makes what’s happening there all the more devastating. A few years ago, a big oil boom in North Dakota began producing 10,000 barrels a day, and the oil companies pounced on the business-friendly state. “Like Channing Tatum,” muses John, “North Dakota suddenly turned out to be a lot more interesting once it was covered in oil.” The state has become so popular for its oil, ABC even has a new drama called Blood & Oil set in the Bakken region where much of the drilling is happening.

Recently, the price of oil has dropped, and investment has subsided, but it will surely pick back up again, so John looks back at the damage done in previous years that will begin again when business resumes. Since 2006, 18.4 million gallons of oil have spilled, leaked, or misted into the air. This oil is destroying farms. John points out there are times when it’s acceptable to destroy farmland, “Like when you’re a child from Krypton looking for a place to crash land, or you’re a bunch of racist baseball ghosts looking for a place to play,” but this is not one of those times.

The danger to land is only just the beginning. Since 2006, 76 workers in Bakken oil fields have died, which is a death every six weeks. This is horrible, but not at all surprising considering the lack of regulations or enforcement of regulations. OSHA currently only has eight workers in all of North and South Dakota. It would take them decades to check every rig. So, it shouldn’t be surprising when tragedy strikes. John discusses the death of a 21-year-old named Brendan Wegner, who died in an explosion in 2011 at a rig owned by Oasis Petroleum. Because Oasis used subcontractors to hire workers, and subcontractors to hire managers, none of their own employees were on site that day and the company couldn’t be held liable, which “is a magic trick so shitty, it’s amazing Criss Angel didn’t jump out and shout ‘Mindfreak!’ at the end.”

With its lack of regulations, North Dakota seems to be a pro-business utopia, and John urges the citizens of the state to take action. The oil business is taking advantage of their friendly, and business-friendly, mentality to get away with causing mayhem, and skirting liability. John pleads with North Dakota to realize that “jobs and money shouldn’t come at the expense of your land and your lives.” To get the point across where the people might see it, the show has placed an ad on an electronic billboard that reads “Be Angry.” for a few seconds before changing to “(Please.)” Hopefully, the good people of North Dakota will get the message.

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