'Oil To Die For' explores deaths in the North Dakota oil fields

Drilling in the Bakken
Russell Girsh, a floor hand for Raven Drilling, helps line up a pipe while drilling for oil in the Bakken shale formation on July 23, 2013 outside Watford City, North Dakota.
Andrew Burton | Getty Images file

Dustin Bergsing was 21 years old when he was overcome by noxious fumes while working the overnight shift at a North Dakota oil well site. He was found dead just after midnight on Jan. 7, 2012.

For oil field workers, this is an all too familiar story. And for Todd Melby, the reporter and producer of "Black Gold Boom: How Oil Changed North Dakota, it was one he couldn't ignore.

More than 50 men have died in the North Dakota oil fields since 2008, Melby said, and each time the newspaper reports follow the same short format: name, age, cause of death. After a year of reading these notices while producing "Black Gold Boom," Melby decided to investigate further.

His new interactive documentary, "Oil To Die For," explores how North Dakota became the most dangerous place to work in the country. "The fatality rates are nearly seven times as high as fields in the rest of America," said Melby.

In the documentary's interactive format, users can watch interviews, access court documents and move through the story at their own speed. The project shows the human toll of the oil boom.

"When people criticize fracking and the oil industry, they focus on the environmental hazards, and there are lots of those," said Melby. "But people aren't really focusing on those human stories. There are men who are dying at alarming rates in North Dakota and that deserves to be paid attention to. Those lives are important."

"Oil To Die For" premieres Monday.


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