Home / News / Bakken News / “Oil To Die For” explores the Bakken, the deadliest workplace in America (Video)

“Oil To Die For” explores the Bakken, the deadliest workplace in America (Video)

While working the night shift at a North Dakota oil well site, a 21-year-old Montana man climbed to the top of an oil storage tank to check its levels. Upon opening the hatch Dustin Bergsing was inundated by toxic fumes and, according to North Dakota state forensic examiners, died from the inhalation of petroleum vapors.

The story has become tragically commonplace since the beginning of the shale revolution in western North Dakota. Since 2008, over 50 men have died at North Dakota oilfield sites. Todd Melby, a reporter, interactive producer and filmmaker best known for “Black Gold Boom,” a public media project examining North Dakota’s oil activity, began covering events in the oil patch in 2012.

The frequency of short format reporting on these incidents prompted him to investigate beyond a worker’s name, age and cause of death. In an effort to show the human toll of the oil boom, Melby created an interactive documentary titled “Oil to Die For.” While exploring how North Dakota became the most dangerous place to work in America, Melby brings the oil patch alive and allows users to access court documents, watch interviews and experience the environment at their own pace.

During an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Melby said, “When people criticize fracking and the oil industry, they focus on the environmental hazards, and there are lots of those. 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.” To experience the interactive documentary “Oil to Die For,” click here.


  1. H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide) Monitors are mandatory on well sites, it’s just one piece of an entire arsenal of PPE’s a person must use. (i.e. Flame Resistant clothing, hard hat, steel toed boots, eye and ear protection)
    I’ve seen a great deal of improvement in regards of safety and injury prevention in our fields just over the past five years. Safety meetings, JSA’s (Job Safety Analysis) prior to each shift, things like that.
    I can relay to what seems a female truck driver in this video. Hundreds of nights have I been on location by myself, climbed the stairs of a production water tank, opened the hatch (H2S gas possible), gauged the tank, loaded, and hauled to disposal.
    Well sites in the oil and gas industry are undoubtedly dangerous terrain. Many accidents are preventable.
    The unfortunate is inevitable however, when possible carelessness or lack of training is a factor.

  2. What’s the music titled?

  3. I’m an EHS professional on my third trip working here in Western North Dakota. With that said, I say this: Not on my watch. I do not compromise on my safety, or the safety of those placed under my charge. The more people believe the same way I do, the less we tolerate the “Git ‘er done” attitude, this will stop happening.

  4. The ND oil industry is not the most dangerous in the US. According to the Washington Post the death rate in logging is 80 persons per 100,000 persons employed on average every year. More than 20,000 persons are employed in the ND oil industry. Over 6 years (2009-2014) that is 120,000 man years so if the death rate in the ND oil industry was the same as that at logging 96 persons would have been expected to die. In fact-if we believe the movie’s producers 50 have died which is a little more than half the number who would have been expected to die at the logging death rate.

    • 50 have died at well sites alone. Dozens more have died on the highways and other off location areas. I’m not down playing logging deaths as I’m no stranger to either job, but Notth Dakota is the deadliest I’ve ever seen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *