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Oil/Gas Industry Challenges News Report on Bakken Worker Safety

The PBS Newshour Wednesday aired a report from a nonprofit investigative broadcast organization that alleged that Bakken Shale producers and operators are allowing unsafe working conditions that have resulted in up to 70 oilfield deaths over the past 10 years.

The report titled "Why North Dakota's Oilfields are So Deadly for Workers," caused various Bakken industry stakeholders, including the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC), to push back late Wednesday. They said no one from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) contacted NDPC for comments.

NDPC spokesperson Tessa Sandstrom told NGI's Shale Daily the industry organization found the PBS report "both frustrating and disappointing," labeling it as "biased and, presenting false information."

Separately industry bloggers Rob Port and Energy In Depth said the CIR report did not mention a Reuters News Service report earlier in the month that showed injury claims in the Bakken had declined the first two quarters of North Dakota's fiscal year.

The report also did not mention any national workplace safety fatality statistics as a comparison. For example, the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) information released last September for 2013 reported a total of 4,405 workplace deaths for the year, or an overall rate of 3.2 workplace fatalities/100,000 workers.

In comparison, the "mining, quarrying and oil/gas extraction" sector that BLS combines had the third-highest rate of fatalities, but fifth lowest in total numbers compared to BLS's 15 categories. The sector including oil/gas had 154 total fatalities in 2013, or a rate of 12.3 deaths/100,000 workers. The two much higher sectors were agriculture, forestry, fishing/hunting (479 deaths, or 22.2/100,000) and transportation/warehousing (687, or 13.1/l00,000).

Blogger Rob Port said in 2006, there were six fatalities in the Bakken oilfields and 351 spudded wells in the state, according to the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) for a rate of 0.0171 fatalities/well; last year, the fatalities doubled, but there were nearly 7.5 times more wells (2,624, per DMR) for 0.0045 fatalities/well.

"Worker safety is nothing to trivialize," he wrote. "This is an important topic to discuss, but it should be discussed honestly." Port said safety has been improving and this was left out of the CIR report.

Energy In Depth writer Simon Lomax blogged last Thursday that CIR, now known as "Reveal," dodged basic questions in a recent CNBC interview. "When asked about the relative safety of oil/natural gas development compared to other industries, CIR reporter Jennifer Gollan said she could not 'get to the bottom' of those questions because of shortcomings of U.S. government data."

"In reality, the data does exist; it's available on the BLS website," Lomax wrote. Before Wednesday night's PBS Newshour report, Gollan did a 5,000-word June 13 story called "In North Dakota's Bakken oil boom there will be blood." A version was published in the June 15 Politico Magazine.

On its website (www.revealnews.org), CIR describes its mission as being "to engage and empower the public through investigative journalism and groundbreaking storytelling in order to spark action, improve lives and protect our democracy."

North Dakota oil/gas industry advocates said they feel more abused than protected.

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