Nearly five years after a worker died in a fiery explosion, an oilfield company has been fined $2.1 million and put on probation.
The verdict in the U.S. District Court for North Dakota was announced in a news release Wednesday, Aug. 28. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland sentenced C&J Well Services to pay $500,000 in fines, pay $1.6 million to the estate of 28-year-old Dustin Payne, and serve three years of probation. During the three years, the company will have to allow the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to inspect any of its facilities across the country.
In October 2014, Payne was welding on a tanker trailer at the Nabors Completion and Production Services facility in Williston. C&J is the corporate successor to NCPS.
The tanker had been used to haul produced water — an oilfield waste product — and hadn’t been cleaned. Federal law prohibits welding any container that carried flammable materials without first cleaning them.
The sparks caused the tanker to explode, and Payne sustained fatal injuries, dying about a week later.
The federal case was filed in June and a plea agreement appears to have been reached quickly, according to court records. The company pleaded guilty and was sentenced in Bismarck on Wednesday.
The company had a policy that required special training for welders, but did not provide welding-specific training to Payne or any of the welders who were working in Williston, according to a news release from the North Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Because there wasn’t proper oversight, Payne and others repeatedly welded on tanks that had carried flammable material but hadn’t been cleaned.
“The North Dakota oil industry attracts thousands of workers from across the country for the prospect of well-paying jobs, and many of those workers initially lack significant oilfield experience,” U.S. Attorney Drew H. Wrigley said in a news release. “Companies have an obligation to educate North Dakota workers and when they fail to meet those obligations, we will hold them accountable.”