On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver explained why North Dakota’s booming oil business isn’t actually all that great. Yes, oil is pumping millions of dollars into the state and decreasing our dependance on foreign oil, but it’s at the expense of worker safety, putting their lives in serious danger.

He also notes that the big companies lack oversight and responsibility for dangerous working conditions. There’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy that ensures that even when violations occur, big companies face small fines…which they then pay only a fraction of.

Oliver is essentially putting a face on the Keystone XL Pipeline debate. Instead of talking about “the environment” as a grand, nebulous topic, Oliver tells his audience about Brendan Wegner, a 21-year-old who died in a tragic oil explosion in 2011. For Oliver, saving lives is more important than the oil industry’s economic benefits.

He’s got a point: Regulation right now is like the Wild West — that is, non-existent. The United States, however, has become the world’s leading oil producer, so plans to scale back are far from imminent. It’s easy to turn a blind eye when things are going well. For Oasis Petroleum, the corporation he targets most heavily, the loss of lives is almost a necessary evil of the industry.

At the segment’s end, Oliver announces he’s put up a billboard in North Dakota that flashes “Be Angry. (Please.),” mimicking the state’s “Be Polite.” billboards. Being angry isn’t enough, though, it seems that the best thing North Dakotans can do is vote.


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