Oil trains are one of the clearest connections between the Bakken oil field in North Dakota and regular Americans. In 2008, no oil left North Dakota by train. Now, over 700,000 barrels a day do. The trains run next to homes and through downtowns from Oregon to Virginia. And when they derail and explode, the consequences can be deadly. So, cities with oil train traffic have been preparing for the worst.
In Minnesota, where nearly 70 percent of North Dakota's oil passes through, lawmakers are strengthening rail safety rules by beefing up inspections, requiring railroads to help train local emergency responders and submit disaster prevention plans.
North Dakota is the most dangerous state in the country for oil and gas workers. In 2011-2012, there were 75 deaths per 100,000 workers. In the next closest state, West Virginia, there were 37.5 per 100,000 workers. Colorado was lower with 14.2 per 100,000 and Wyoming is a third of the national average with 8.1 deaths per 100,000 workers.
To understand why the oil and gas industry here is so dangerous, you can go to the heart of the boom: Williston, North Dakota.
As the oil and gas industry has grown to employ over half a million oil and gas workers nationwide, the number of fatalities has grown as well. In 2013, 112 oil and gas workers died on the job; the year before, 142. Nationwide, oil and gas workers are still six times more likely to be killed on the job than the average American.
Texas had the most fatalities overall in 2011 and 2012 – 106 – but, according to a new analysis by Inside Energy, North Dakota had the highest fatal injury rate in the country, 75 deaths per 100,000 workers. That's three times higher than the national rate for oil and gas fatalities.
Which raises a question, how bad does it have to get before regulators and elected officials step in and do something?
Flaring – the practice of burning natural gas, often when it's produced as a byproduct of oil drilling – has come under scrutiny in recent years. In part this is because new oil plays are resulting in a lot of gas being flared off.
A new map released by the group SkyTruth uses U.S. satellite data to show flaring in the United States You can see flaring between March and August 2014, and zoom in and out to see flaring in specific locations.
Farming and ranching have always been the biggest industries in North Dakota. But now, oil has knocked agriculture from the top spot. Mining – which includes oil – is now worth $8.5 billion dollars in the state. Agriculture is closer to 7 billion.
It’s a milestone for a state that had hardly any oil production 10 years ago, and the change has created some tension.