Company fined in death of oilfield worker
An oilfeild services company pled guilty and was sentenced Wednesday in Federal Court in Bismarck, N.D., on charges related to the death of an oilfield worker, the Department of Justice announced last week.
The victim, Dustin Payne, worked for Nabors Completion and Production Services (NCPS) at its Williston, N.D., facility. On Oct. 3, 2014, Payne welded on an uncleaned tanker trailer that had previously carried “production water” or ‘saltwater,” a liquid waste generated by oil wells and contains flammable chemicals. The tank exploded and Payne was fatally injured. A Marine Corps veteran of campaigns in Iran and Afghanistan, Payne had recently moved to N.D. to work in the booming oil industry. He was 28 years old.
Federal law makes it illegal to weld on tanks or other container that have not been thoroughly cleaned to remove all flammable materials and explosion hazards.
The defendant, C&J Well Services is the corporate successor to NCPS. NCPS knew that it was against the law to weld on uncleaned tanks and had written policies prohibiting the practice. NCPS policies mandated special training for welders and internal auditing procedures to make sure that welding rules were actually being followed. However, NCPS did not provide welding-specific training to Payne or other welders at the Williston facility, did not effectively supervise the work of the Williston welders, did not require the welders to obtain hot work permits prior to welding and did not follow internal auditing procedures. As a result, Payne and other welders repeatedly welded on uncleaned tanks that contained flammable hydrocarbon residue.
C&J pled guilty to a willful violation of the standard requiring that tanks be cleaned before welding. U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland sentenced C&J to pay a $500,000 fine, $1.6 million to the victim’s estate, and a three-year term of probation, during which C&J must allow the Occupational Safety and health administration (OSHA) to inspect its facilities and equipment across the country without a warrant, without advance notice and without a specified inspection reason.
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