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.