Airing Monday, January 12th at 9pm ET/6pm PT
“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 in Bismarck, ND
“I’m literally going to be welding something that’s full of oil…Don’t [feel] comfortable welding this at all. Dangerous as [expletive].”
--Text message sent by Dustin Payne, oil field worker killed in an explosion October 2014
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This Monday, January 12th at 9pm ET/6p PT, Al Jazeera’s Emmy Award-winning “Fault Lines” presents “Death on the Bakken Shale” – an in-depth investigation into why the oil boom in North Dakota has brought with it the highest worker fatality rates in the country. Why are so many dying and who should be held responsible?
“Fault Lines” correspondent Josh Rushing and his team spent six months investigating safety risks in North Dakota’s oil fields, where advances in fracking crude oil in the Bakken shale formation have help make the U.S. the world’s largest oil and gas producer.
North Dakota is now producing more than a million barrels of oil a day, from over 8,000 oil-producing wells, yet as “Fault Lines” finds – the rapid pace of development has led to devastating worker injuries and fatalities.
Al Jazeera’s Josh Rushing travels to Hazel Green, Alabama, to meet the family of Dustin Payne, a Marine Corps veteran who took a job in North Dakota as a welder. While 28-year-old Dustin was working for a subsidiary of Nabors Industries, an S&P 500 oil, natural gas and geothermal drilling contractor, he sent a series of text messages to his girlfriend commenting on safety conditions at the worksite. “I’m literally going to be welding something that’s full of oil…Don’t [feel] comfortable welding this at all. Dangerous as [expletive],” Payne wrote.
On October 3, 2014, Payne was welding on a tanker in the Nabors yard when it exploded. After his death, Payne’s family learned that Dustin had been asked to weld on a tanker containing salt water, a byproduct of the fracking process which can contain hydrocarbons, gases and other explosive chemicals.
“What happened to Dustin unfortunately was very avoidable,” says Ross Rolshoven, investigator for Great Plains Claims. “The truck should have been put outside for 24 hours and checked for flammable gas.”
But Payne is just one of more than 40 oil workers who have died on the job in the Bakken since 2011. “Fault Lines” speaks with Eric Brooks, the Area Director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to learn more about how the government regulates the oil field industry. OSHA has only nine full-time compliance officers for North Dakota, and does not regulate some key areas of the industry including the amount of hours oil field workers work.
Additionally, “Fault Lines” found that the breakneck pace of production in the Bakkan is so great that employees are often not given the most basic safety information about the hazards they’re exposed to. “Death on the Bakken Shale” covers the story of deceased worker Brandon Belk and his brother Jeremy Daggett, who cleaned the inside of frac tanks for Badlands Power Fuels.
Jeremy Daggett tells “Fault Lines” he never knew the chemicals that had been in the frac tank, saying, “You’re just jumping in. You’ve got no clue,” and that the brothers never received or wore safety respirators.
On July 3, 2013, Brandon Belk vomited and passed out after cleaning a tank; after a visit to the ER the next day, Belk wrote on Facebook, “Looks like a chemical burn….I have been afraid to go to sleep massive headache behind my eyes.”
While Brandon’s autopsy report attributed his death to a combination of a drug overdose and pneumonia, his family believes his death was work-related. OSHA issued the company a citation for failing to test the space for hazardous atmospheric conditions, and another for failing to train their employees. Yet the fines for these multiple violations amounted to only $17,000.
Fatalities are the worst of what can happen in the oil fields, but every year there are also thousands of devastating injuries. Finally, “Fault Lines” investigates North Dakota’s Workforce Safety & Insurance agency (WSI) to learn how injured workers’ claims are treated, as well as North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, who serves as Chairman of the Industrial Commission, the body responsible for regulating the drilling and production of oil and gas in the state.
It’s a compelling and hard-hitting “Fault Lines” that examines why more isn’t being done to make the Bakken a safe place for workers, including slowing the pace of development to make the workplace safer for employees.
Fault Lines' “Death on the Bakken Shale” premieres on Al Jazeera America on Monday, January 12th at 9 p.m. Eastern time/6 p.m. Pacific. It will air again at 12am and 4am, and Saturday January 17that 7pm ET/4pm PT and 10pm ET/7pm PT.
Learn more about the show here: http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/fault-lines.html
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Al Jazeera America’s “Fault Lines” is a half-hour investigative documentary series that airs weekly on Monday evenings at 9pm ET/6 pm PT. Currently in its sixth season and the recent recipient of two prestigious Peabody Awards, “Fault Lines” takes you beyond headlines and holds the powerful to account as we examine the U.S.’s role in the world.
“Death on the Bakken Shale” is hosted by “Fault Lines” host Josh Rushing, who served in the Gulf War in 2003 as a US Marine working for Central Command. Since helping launch the show in 2009, Rushing has appeared in 28 episodes of “Fault Lines,” covering a wide range of issues such as NSA surveillance, immigration and the drug war. Any given day on location has meant a death chamber, illegal mine shaft, cocaine lab or battlefield, while a day in the office has ranged from hunting seals with Inuit in the Arctic to running from riots in Santiago. As a long-form correspondent for Al Jazeera English, Josh Rushing has shot specials and documentaries all over the world, from Iraq to Colombia to Vietnam to North Dakota.
ABOUT AL JAZEERA AMERICA
Al Jazeera America is the new U.S. news channel that provides both domestic and international news for American audiences. It is headquartered in New York City with bureaus in 12 cities across the United States.
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