Jun 25, 2015

Why North Dakota’s oil fields are so deadly for workers, one dead every 6 weeks

On average, someone in the Bakken oil fields dies every six weeks – at least 74 people have died on the job there since 2006. But the major oil companies that have profited most from the boom often evade accountability when accidents happen.

Across North Dakota, deeply entrenched corporate practices and weak federal oversight inoculate energy producers against responsibility when workers are killed or injured, while shifting the blame to others. Oil companies also offer financial incentives to workers for speeding up production – potentially jeopardizing their safety – and shield themselves through a web of companies to avoid paying the full cost of settlements to workers and their families when something goes wrong.

Reporter Jennifer Gollan investigates the death of Brendan Wegner and why the Bakken oil fields are so dangerous.


Jennifer Gollan, Reporter: When Brendan Wegner left Wisconsin for the Bakken oil fields, his parents had no idea North Dakota was the deadliest place to work in America.

Kevin Wegner, Brendan's Father: I was happy for him. I didn't know oil rigs were dangerous.

Jennifer Gollan: Brendan was hired to work for a small oil service company.

Kevin Wegner: The guy told him, you put your time in here and in a year, year-and-a-half, you'll be up over a hundred thousand dollars a year. For a 21-year-old kid, that's pretty exciting.

Jennifer Gollan: Brendan got the job because he worked as an electrical lineman and was good with heights.

Kevin Wegner: If you've ever seen a workover rig, there's stacks of pipes in there. His job would be to stand up there and uncouple them or couple them together. And the day of the accident was actually his first day working on the rig.

Jennifer Gollan: A blowout. Oil shot 50 feet in the air. Brendan was trapped. The well's operator had injected salt water to make the well safe to work on. Even so, the well exploded.

Jebadiah Stanfill, Former Oil Field Worker: Yeah, that looks like the rig site to me.

Jennifer Gollan: Jebadiah Stanfill was working on a nearby rig and rushed over.

Jebadiah Stanfill: I go out there and asked him where everybody's at and how many are there. He just says, "Derrick man's dead. The derrick man's dead."
That's when I looked up and saw what I later find out is Brendan burning in the derrick.

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