Why does the North Dakota oil boom have the highest worker fatality rates in the country—and who should be held responsible?

"Death on the Bakken Shale", 2015
The US is now the world’s largest oil and gas producer in part because of what’s happening in North Dakota, where advances in fracking have unlocked crude oil in the Bakken shale formation in the western part of the state. North Dakota is now producing more than a million barrels of oil a day. Ten years ago there were fewer than 200 oil-producing wells in the Bakken. Now there are more than 8,000. The rapid pace of development has made North Dakota the state with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, but the boom has brought with it a serious problem—the highest worker fatality rate in the nation. Fault Lines spent six months investigating safety risks in North Dakota’s oil fields and uncovered a dark side to the boom—the human cost.

A lot of these workers come to North Dakota, get chewed up and go home to recover. I get calls from attorneys in other states all asking the same question. What in the hell is going on up there?

Steve Little, attorney
Mat Skene, executive producer | Carrie Lozano, senior producer | Lucy Kennedy, producer | Victor Tadashi Suarez, director of photography | Lindy Jankura, editor | Omar Mullick, additional photography | Abdulai Bah, associate producer | Nikhil Swaminathan, digital producer | Shannon Stanley, Dana Merwin, production managers | Emily Marie Gibson, Yousur Alhlou, Katy Schaper, production assistance | Josh Rushing, correspondent