Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 2, Episode 30 - North Dakota - full transcript

With the recent oil boom in North Dakota, massive oil spills and environmental damage go unpunished as profits and greed destroy this beautiful state. Lawmakers allows a devious hiring practice that exempts profiting oil companies from unsafe and fatal working conditions.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -

Series II
Episode 30

Welcome, welcome, welcome
to "Last Week Tonight" !

Thank you so much for joining us.
I'm John Oliver.

Just time for a quick recap
of the week,

and we begin
with Justin Bieber's penis.

I'm kidding. I'm kidding.
I would never do that to you.

We begin with Syria. Much better.

Last week, we talked about Russia's
decision to get involved in Syria

and the potential mess
that would follow.

Well, this week,
it nearly got a lot messier.

Russian warships firing
cruise missiles

at what it says
are ISIS targets in Syria.

CNN has learned at least four

of the more than two dozen Russian
cruise missiles

launched from ships in the Caspian Sea
crashed in Iran.

Holy shit !

It seems Russia might have
accidentally bombed Iran.

And there is simply no edible
arrangement big enough

to smooth that
international incident over.

It can't be done.

Now Russia...
Russia denies this story,

but whether it's true or not, they're,
frankly, not the only ones

whose Syrian strategy is
not working out as planned,

because America had an embarrassing
revelation of its own this week.

The US is making a stunning change

to one of its central efforts
to stop ISIS in Syria.

It's suspending its
half-billion dollar program

to train up to 5,000
rebel fighters each year.

The program fell
far short of its goals.

Wait. "Short of its goals."

That is an understatement on par with
"Tim Burton likes Johnny Depp."

Yeah. Yeah, he likes him.
He likes him just fine.

The Pentagon's plan had been to
train more than 15,000 fighters,

but as of this July, it had only
trained and deployed 54 recruits,

many of whom have since been captured
or abandoned the fight.

And last month, we learned
how many are actually left.

Can you tell us what the total number
of trained fighters remains ?

It's a small number, and the ones that
are in the fight, is

is... we're talking four or five.

Four or five ? That's not good.

That is not only not enough
guys to destroy ISIS,

that's probably not enough to destroy
a six-foot party sub.

And it is, generally, not a great sign
for your rebel forces

if they can all go out to dinner

and the restaurant won't
automatically add gratuity.

That's a pretty good rule.

So, let's move on now to FIFA,

the reason that my mouth tastes like a
lime crawled in and shat itself.

FIFA's leader, Sepp Blatter, has been
under pressure for months now.

First the US indicted
many of FIFA's top officials,

then the Swiss opened a criminal
investigation against Blatter,

and this week, FIFA's ethics committee
finally stepped in.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter
has been suspended for 90 days

as part of an corruption investigation
of football's governing body.

Wait, I'm sorry. You only
suspended him 90 days ?

That is ludicrously short.

If he put a Greek yogurt in the break
room fridge the day he was suspended,

it could conceivably still be
edible when he gets back.

Although, to be fair, it will probably
be gone, and I'll tell you why.

Janice in accounting
don't give a fuck !

But even this minor suspension
was too much for Sepp Blatter,

who was actually called
for an investigation

into the FIFA ethics committee

Which is basically standing up in the
middle of an intervention and going,

"You know what ? Fuck all of you !
You've got a drinking problem !

You've got drinking problems ! How do
you like them apples ?"

The problem is, Blatter's suspension
leaves a vacuum at the top of FIFA.

And you'd expect someone like
Secretary General Jerome Valcke

or Vice President Michel Platini
to keep things steady while he's gone.

However, there is
a bit of a problem with that.

Also suspended from
all football activity are

Secretary General Jerome Valcke and
Vice President Michel Platini

who faces questions over a 2
million-dollar payment from Blatter.

It turns out they were both suspended
because of course they were !

They worked under Sepp Blatter,

and he is the Pepé Le Pew of soccer.

Boundaryless, aggressively European,

and if you're anywhere near him, his
stink will get all over you.

FIFA also cannot turn to former vice
presidents Chung Mong-Joon

or Jack Warner because they've been
barred for six years and life.

So the current acting president of
FIFA is Isa Hayatou,

head of the African
FIFA Confederation.

And if you're thinking, "Good.
This is the guy to clean up FIFA,"

there's just one extra thing
you should probably know.

Senior Vice President Isa Hayatou now
fills in for Blatter,

although he's previously faced

of taking a bribe
from the Qatar World Cup bid.

Of course he's fought allegations of
his own ! Of course he did.

And at this point,
I think it's becoming clear,

if FIFA wants to find Blatter's
successor within its own ranks,

it'll be like finding a Porta-Potty
at a music festival:

None of them are likely to be clean,

so the best you're hoping for is
to find one

that's the least covered in shit.

And finally tonight
finally tonight, we move on...

We move on to Toyota,

makers of the '92 Camry where you got
your first backseat hand job.

Toyota is famous for making
dependable vehicles,

but this week, we learned
something surprising

about who exactly
has been depending on them.

The United States wants
Toyota to explain

how ISIS is getting their hands on so
many Toyota trucks and SUVs.

Their propaganda videos
show convoys made up

mostly of Toyota HiLux pickups
and Land Cruisers.

And now ABC News has learned

that a US Treasury
counter-terrorism unit

is asking Toyota to help them
determine how so many of its trucks,

both newer and older models, have
ended up in the hands of ISIS.

Yes, it seems that Toyotas are being
used as instruments of death,

which is, it's a bold move, because,
traditionally, "death on wheels"

has very much been GM's brand.

Now... That's kind of their area.

Now, as you would expect,

Toyota is claiming to be baffled as
to how this has occurred.

Toyota says it doesn't know how ISIS
is getting its hands on these trucks.

That's right, David. In a statement to
ABC News, Toyota says it is not aware

of any of its dealerships
violating the company policy

not to sell to terrorist groups.

Hold... Hold on, hold on.

You actually felt the need to make

not selling to terrorists
official company policy ?

Is that in the handbook under "Things
that should go without saying" ?

So, don't sell to terrorists,

don't accept magic beans as payment,

and don't sell to a cat who walks in
with a ruby in its mouth.

Brian ?
Brian, what are you trying to do,

selling a Yaris to that cat
with a ruby in its mouth ?

You can't do that, Brian.

I don't care if it's a cash offer.

The amazing thing is
this is not a new story.

Terrorist groups love Toyota vehicles.

Back in 2001,
"The New York Times" reported

that Osama bin Laden likes
Toyota Land Cruisers,

and "Newsweek" once ran a story called

"Why Rebel Groups
Love the Toyota HiLux."

And in the light
of this news this week,

you would think Toyota would at least

change the name of one of their cars.

Incidentally, Toyota does sell
a make of car called the Isis.

Come on, Toyota !

You're giving ISIS
built-in vanity plates !

It seems Toyota might have
a genuine problem here,

because by the looks of it, ISIS seems
to really like their cars.

Other brands like Mitsubishi,
Hyundai, and Isuzu

have also been spotted
in these ISIS videos,

but nothing even remotely close

to the amount of Toyota vehicles.

In fact, a former
US ambassador to the UN

told ABC News that regrettably,

Toyota has almost become
part of the ISIS brand.

Wow. At this rate, we are
just a few months away

from ISIS-owned Toyota dealerships,

complete with fully armed
wind sock guy.

Come on down to ISIS Toyota !

Our salesmen are terrorists
you can negotiate with.

And now, this.

And now, John McCain's favorite joke.

It's been a week since the election.
How ya doin' ?

Well, I've been sleeping like a baby.

Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

I slept like a baby.

Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

Sleep two hours, wake up and cry...

After we lost the election,
I slept like a baby.

Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.
Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

After I lost, I slept like a baby.

Sleep two hours,
wake up and cry.

Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

And one from before
he even lost.

Slept like a baby.

Sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

Moving on.

Our main story tonight
is about North Dakota,

or as you may know it, South Dacanada.

You probably don't
think about

North Dakota very much,
and believe me, they know that.

In fact, one of their visitor centers
even assumes that they are going to be

the last state you'll visit.

North Dakota is probably

best known for the 1996
Coen brothers' movie, "Fargo,"

and the visitors center can
tell you all about it,

with pictures and the film's famous
wood chipper on display.

Visitors who save
the state for their 50th

get a "Best for Last" T-shirt
and a certificate.

Okay, okay.
Just a couple of things there.

First, you do know what that wood
chipper was used for, right ?

That was used
to grind up Steve Buscemi.

And secondly, "Best for Last"
is a heart-breaking slogan.

You're just one step away
from having it be

"North Dakota. Look: We know."

But the fact North Dakota is so upbeat

about its own lack of popularity is
quintessentially Midwestern.

People from North Dakota
are so kind and so wholesome,

a few years back,
they actually had billboards

by the roadsides reading
"Be kind" and "Be Polite,"

and that says something
wonderful about them,

just as it says
something awful about me

as a citizen of New York City

that my first reaction
to seeing a billboard

reading "Be Polite" is fuck you !

Don't tell me what to do !
Go fuck yourself !

Be polite. Be polite.

Fuck you !
Be polite.

The point is, North Dakota had
gotten used to being ignored,

but a few years ago, this happened.

North Dakota with the big
shale oil boom...

North Dakota's oil production climbed
to 810,000 barrels a day.

This is the California Gold Rush,

but in North Dakota,
in the 21st century.

Yes. Like Channing Tatum,
North Dakota suddenly

turned out to be
a lot more interesting

once it was covered in oil.

So over the last decade, the state's
Bakken Shale formation

has produced an oil boom so large,

it has helped cut the amount
of oil we import in half.

Now, think about that.
North Dakota has done

almost as much to reduce
our dependence on foreign oil

as you did when you biked
to work that one time.

And at its peak,
this oil boom produced

thousands of jobs and millions of
dollars in wealth.

It was such a dramatic shift,
ABC has a new drama

set in the Bakken.

In the world of oil,
one name reigns supreme.

Here, you're either
with Briggs or you're out.

You think I'm just gonna toss
you the keys to the kingdom

and watch you drive it
over the cliffs ?

Sometimes you have to play dirty
to get filthy rich.

Blood and Oil.
Sundays, this fall.

Yes. On Sunday.

In the ultimate miracle,

the oil boom brought Don Johnson back.

And a Don Johnson television show
is as rare as a solar eclipse.

And like a solar eclipse, you really
shouldn't look directly at it.

But Don Johnson
is not the only reason

that this show is a little out-dated.

The price of oil has dropped
in the last year,

and companies have slowed down
expansion of new wells.

But when the price rises again,
the boom is expected to return.

So, maybe let's use this pause
to take stock of what the hell

just happened to North Dakota,
because for all the good

the oil industry has done
for the state,

it has not been without cost.

For a start, it's taken a massive toll
on their environment.

Last, year, "The New York Times"
found that since 2006,

18 million gallons
of oils and chemicals

had spilled, leaked,
or misted into the air.

That is a quantity
of lubricants and toxins

seldom found outside
of a John Mayer pool party,

and equally difficult to clean.

And that's saying something.

And spills of oil in saltwater can
have disastrous consequences.

Just listen to a couple of farmers

who have had their land
impacted by this.

When things go bad
and when saltwater happens,

you can't see it initially.

So, years down the road,
it shows up and it's devastating.

Something should have been a lot,
done a lot quicker.

Darwin Peterson farms
the land around here

and says this land now
is out of production

as long as he can foresee.

It pretty well,
you know, just annihilated.

Look, there are times when it's
acceptable to destroy farmland,

like when you're a child from Krypton
looking for a place to crashland,

or you're a bunch of racist baseball
ghosts looking for a place to play.

But this is not one of those times.

But the danger to land
is only just the beginning,

as a reporter for "Reveal" found
when she investigated

worker deaths
in the entire Bakken region.

Since 2006, at least 74 workers
have died in the Bakken oil fields.

That means that on average,
someone dies every six weeks

in the Bakken oil fields.

A death every six weeks is what you do

to keep your soap opera on the air.

In real life,
that is fucking horrifying.

Now, you might hope
employers would do everything

in their power
to minimize those risks,

but that does not always
seem to be the case.

Just listen to this one worker
whose job involves lowering

explosives into the earth
and detonating them

describe his schedule.

I work a 20 and ten.

20 days on, 10 days off.

The longest I've ever
been out on a job site

is 69 hours straight.

69 hours straight.

So that sounds like
it could be dangerous.

Yeah, definitely.
It's a ticking time bomb, really.

He worked 69 hours straight
handling explosives.

You shouldn't be allowed to work that
long handling frozen yogurt.

That is not what I ordered, Ricky !

That's a handful of sprinkles
with your watch in it !

Go home and rest !
I want to speak to a manager !

But the problem is
there are few incentives

for companies
to actively care about this.

We do have federal
regulators like OSHA,

but unfortunately, not only
have they themselves conceded

that their general regulations used
for oil and gas are inadequate,

but the odds of them ever turning up

to inspect a work site in North Dakota
are pretty slim.

OSHA only has nine full-time
compliance officers for North Dakota,

and according to some estimates,

it would take decades
for OSHA to inspect

every workplace in the state.

Only nine compliance officers.
That is terrible.

And it's actually even worse

because that clip is out of date
and they currently only have eight.

And incidentally,
those eight have to cover

both North and South Dakota.

And look, there are plenty of things

that having eight of
would be fine in the Dakotas.

Water parks ? Sure, eight is plenty.

Restaurants that serve lutefisk ?

Eight is seven more than enough.

But when you're talking about safety
inspectors for oil wells,

you're gonna at least
want to be in double digits.

And given all of this,
perhaps it shouldn't be

surprising when tragedy strikes,

as it did four years ago
at a well owned by a company

called Oasis Petroleum.

Some tragic news
from Western North Dakota.

One man is killed
and three are injured

in an oil well explosion.

A Wisconsin man died at the scene.

Three other men were transported
to the Williston Hospital

to be treated for severe burns.

Now, that is the sort
of local news story

that you watch,
feel briefly sad about,

and then forget as soon as they get
to their final story

about a squirrel
who can play ping-pong.

But remember,
that was a fatal accident,

and one of the workers who died was a
21-year-old named Brendan Wegner.

And for those who
worked alongside him,

their lives were never the same.

Jebadiah Stanfill was working
on a nearby rig and rushed over.

And I go out there and...

ask him where everybody's at
and how many are there and...

he just says, "Derrick man's dead.
The derrick man's dead."

That's when I looked up and...

I saw what I would later find out is
Brendan burning in the derrick.

One other worker died,

another lost his legs
and later committed suicide.

It was the deadliest accident in the
Bakken in the last decade.

Now, I know you're sad at this point,

but brace yourselves because
you are about to get angry.

Because after the accident,
OSHA visited the work site

and found that it was missing several
important safety features,

including flame-retardant
clothing and a safety slide.

Now, you might think
as owners of that well,

Oasis would come under
a lot of scrutiny from OSHA,

but you would be wrong about that.

How come Oasis wasn't held accountable
for this accident ?

Oasis doesn't have exposed employees
on the jobsite.

Rather, they hired a subcontractor.

Now it might sound
like a bunch of legalese,

but it's very important.

It doesn't sound
like a bunch of legalese.

It sounds like a bunch
of complete bullshit.

But it's actually true.

Oasis technically had
no employees there that day,

and let me explain how that happened.

Rather than hiring employees,

companies like Oasis
hire subcontractors.

In this case, a company
called Carlson Well Service,

who employ the workers instead.

And if you're thinking, "Well, surely
Oasis must have had

someone there
to supervise the work site,"

yes, they did, but he wasn't
an Oasis employee either.

He was an independent contractor,

a so-called "company man"
working for another firm,

hired by Oasis called
Mitchell's Oil Field Service.

So because Oasis had
their "company man"

who didn't work for the company

overseeing the work site,
and their subcontractor

overseeing its own workers,
that meant that technically,

no one working on Oasis's well

worked for Oasis that day,
and that is a magic trick so shitty,

it's amazing Criss Angel
didn't come out and shout,

"Mindfreak !" at the end of it.

Mindfreak !
I've gotcha, everyone !

I mind-fracked ya !

And to be clear, Oasis was not found
at fault for this accident.

How could they be ?

In their deal with Carlson,
they made sure to say that

Carlson had the authority
to control and direct

the performance and safety
of the work and then

wrote "Company is interested only in
the results obtained."

And look, bad things tend to happen

when you're interested
only in the results obtained.

That is a policy
that leads to a woman trying

to lose 15 pounds
for her wedding day saying,

"Fuck it ! The juice cleanse
isn't working !

"Get me some heroin !
"I'm fitting in that Vera Wang !

I don't care anymore !"

Now, I should point out,
Oasis wanted us to say

they did absolutely nothing wrong,

and also that they have
added new safety measures

since the accident, essentially saying

their system was always fine, and
that's why they have now fixed it.

And, look, subcontracting
and workplace accidents

are not unique to North Dakota.

What is unique to North Dakota

is the level of regulatory
friendliness to oil companies,

something that their immensely
charismatic governor

likes to describe like this.

We have created a friendly business
climate in North Dakota,

where taxes and insurance
rates are low.

The regulatory environment
is very reasonable.

North Dakotans are
friendly toward business

and will work hard to help
their employers be successful.

He's making North Dakota sound like a
magical, pro-business utopia,

like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory,

which, come to think of it,
had about the same

safety record as
North Dakota's oil fields.

Now we'll think back.

It was about the same body count.

And he is not kidding.

The thing is,
the governor is not kidding

about the friendly business climate,

because Governor Dalrymple
himself heads up

the three-person industrial commission

that oversees the majority of spills.

And to give you a sense
of the type of oversight

they provide, last year,
"The New York Times" found

that one of the biggest
oil producers in the area,

Continental Resources,
which had spilled

1.6 million gallons since 2006,

had been fined only $222,000,

which would be bad enough
if those fines had not

then been reduced down
to just $20,000 because

and this is amazing

the commission typically
settles for about ten percent

of the assessed penalties.

Oil companies in North Dakota
pay for their mistakes

the same way that four-year-olds pay
for their toys,

very rarely, and when they do,
it's mostly just a symbolic gesture.

Just give the man
the dollar, Jason.

Give him the dollar.
I know it really costs $10.

I just want him to feel
like he's doing something.

Now, another member
of that commission,

Lynn Helms, claims this system
actually works well

due to the conditions
that they attach.

They agree to cut a check
for that amount, unappealable,

if a repeat violation occurs during
that one-to-five-year time period.

It's like probation, and it really
changes behavior.

Helms says looking back
on five years of data,

no companies have
had a repeat violation.

Really ?

No companies have
had a repeat violation ?

That is one hell of a claim.
Let's take a look at that, shall we ?

Because their deals typically
stipulate that the company must have

"no same or substantially similar
violations within a year."

So, let's look at Petro-Hunt.

The got a 90% discount
on a $25,000 fine last year

after an incident
in which they spilled

over 3,000 gallons of oil.

And yet, five months later,
and this is true,

which is less than a year,
this happened.

The state health department
has responded to an oil spill

near the town of Keene
in McKenzie County.

Petro-Hunt says about 600 barrels
of oil leaked from a well

and it was not contained on site.

600 barrels of oil.

That is over 25,000 gallons.

How is that not
substantially similar ?

It's basically the exact
same thing, only worse.

It's the "Hangover II" of oil spills !
It's wrong !

And North Dakota's
"friendly regulations"

even extend to campaign finance.

The oil industry is actually
the top political contributor

in the state,
which isn't that surprising.

What is surprising is that,
as one state legislator

pointed out, in North Dakota,

you don't even have
to spend campaign funds

on your campaigns.

When I first ran,
visiting with candidates,

I always asked,
"If you had any money left

in the campaign account at the end,
what do you do with it ?"

One of the most fascinating
answers I received was,

"Well, you put it in your checking
account. It's yours.

That's income."

Now, I know... I know his flannel bow
tie is extremely distracting,

but what he's saying is horrifying.

In North Dakota, you could
theoretically find yourself saying,

"Well, I gave my state rep money
for TV ads and yard signs,"

"but instead, he blew it all
on a full-length mink coat"

"and the glasses Buddy Holly
was wearing when he died."

That's not what it was for.

You look good, but it's
not what it was for.

But you do look good.

And I am not saying legislators in
North Dakota do that,

but that's a system you might want

a state ethics commission
to look into,

except for the fact that and this
really should not surprise you,

North Dakota does not have
an ethics commission,

which is pretty much guaranteeing that
FIFA just found the location

for its new
international headquarters.

They're coming, North Dakota !

They're coming !

And finally, North Dakota also allows

the oil industry to use
something called

indemnification to
avoid civil liability.

And to show you how that works,

let's go back to Oasis Petroleum

and that deadly explosion
we mentioned earlier.

As you know, Oasis didn't have to pay
any fine for that accident.

However, they did wind up agreeing

to pay Brendan Wegner's family
an undisclosed settlement.

Except not entirely,
because they also had

an indemnification clause
in their contract with Carlson

stating that in cases
like the accident

that killed Brendan, Carlson would
hold Oasis harmless against all claims

without limit and without regard
to the cause or the negligence

or fault of any party.

So theoretically, even if
Oasis were negligent,

and found completely at fault,
Carlson's insurance company

could find itself paying
a chunk of Oasis's settlement,

which in this case, it did.

And sure, technically
the family gets paid

either way, but who pays matters.

Payments are deterrents,
and think of it like this.

If every time you parked
in front of a fire hydrant,

someone else got a ticket,
you'd probably be a lot

less inclined to drive
around the block looking

for open parking spaces.

And I understand that
North Dakota wants

to be business friendly
and that plenty of businesses

use indemnification clauses,
but the danger involved

in the oil industry
makes it a little different,

which is why some
of the states ban or limit

indemnification clauses
in the oil industry.

Even Texas limits them. Texas !

Texas !

And Texas is so loosely regulated,
their speed limit is "let 'er rip,"

and their age of consent
is just a drawing of a wink.

Listen, listen. Please.

North Dakota, please listen.

I get it.
You're friendly, and that's fantastic.

You had billboards saying "Be Polite"

and that's wonderful,
but this has gone too far.

Oil companies need to be held
accountable when bad things happen.

A fine is no good
if it's a drop in the bucket,

especially because knowing
these companies now,

they'll probably miss that bucket
and then somehow find a way to make

someone else pay to clean up
the fucking mess.

So please, I would like to suggest to
you a new approach.

Hey, North Dakota,

we know you're a friendly place,

full of nice people doing nice things.

You like to shake hands,
smile, and for some reason,

build a giant turtle out of wheel rims
by the highway.

That's a fucking awesome
turtle, North Dakota !

Nice job !

But lately, we've become concerned

that oil companies have been
taking advantage of you.

And sure, they brought
lots of jobs and money

to your state, and that's nice,

but jobs and money
shouldn't come at the expense

of your land or your life.

Right now in some ways, you're less
regulated than Texas !

Fucking Texas !

You're less regulated
than whatever this is !

So listen, just for once, it might be
time to stop being polite...

and start getting mad.

Even madder, North Dakota.
No ! Much madder than that !

Holy shit !
Not you, possum.

But the rest of you...
Yes, that's better ! Get pissed !

Remember, people are dying
and land is getting ruined,

so come on, North Dakota !

Let the ferocious animals
lurking beneath

your frozen exteriors out
for once in your goddamn lives !

Do it !

And we're asking you in the most North
Dakotan way we know how

with an actual billboard
on one of your actual highways

saying "Be Angry,"

followed, of course,
by the word "Please."

So please be angry, North Dakota.

Be angry. Please !

That is up there.

That's our show.
Thank you so much for watching.

See you next week. Good night !


Series II
End of episode 30