BISMARCK — A North Dakota oilfield company was ordered to pay $2.1 million in fines and victim restitution after a welder died while working on an uncleaned tanker trailer five years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday, Aug. 28.
C&J Well Services, the corporate successor to Nabors Completion and Production Services, pleaded guilty to a "willful violation" of a federal law requiring tanks to be cleaned before welding, according to a news release. The company said it pleaded guilty to a "single misdemeanor count" under workplace safety laws.
Dustin Payne, a 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran from Alabama, worked for NCPS when he died in 2014 after the tanker he was welding in Williston exploded. The tanker previously carried production water, which contains flammable chemicals.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland ordered Houston-based C&J to pay $1.6 million in restitution to the victim's estate and a $500,000 fine. He also imposed three years of probation during which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration may inspect company facilities and equipment across the country for any reason without a warrant or advance notice.
The DOJ said NCPS knew it was against the law to weld on uncleaned tanks and had written policies against it, but Payne and others "repeatedly welded on uncleaned tanks that contained flammable hydrocarbon residue." Prosecutors argued the company didn't provide welding-specific training to Payne or others at a Williston facility and didn't effectively supervise their work.
“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,” North Dakota's U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said in a statement. “Companies have an obligation to educate North Dakota workers and when they fail to meet those obligations, we will hold them accountable.”
In a statement, C&J Executive Vice President Danielle Hunter called Payne's death a "tragedy" and emphasized their commitment to safe work practices. She said C&J acquired Nabors Completion and Production Services about five months after Payne's death, but said the change in ownership made the incident "no less significant" to the company.
"We are sorry for the loss of Mr. Payne, and his loved ones have our deepest sympathy," she said.