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In North Dakota’s Bakken oil boom, there will be blood

By Jennifer Gollan - Reveal News, June 13, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In the early evening of Sept. 14, 2011, Jebadiah Stanfill was working near the top of an oil rig at a bend in the Missouri River in North Dakota. Jolted by a deafening boom in the distance, he swung around from his perch and saw a pillar of black smoke twisting into the sky.

Less than a mile away, another rig had exploded. “There’s men over there!” a worker below him shouted.

Stanfill, a compact and muscular man in his 30s, descended to the ground and hopped into the bed of a red pickup driven by a co-worker. Bruce Jorgenson, a manager overseeing the work of Stanfill and his crew, jumped into the passenger seat, and they raced to the explosion.

A few minutes later, they reached the burning rig and pulled up next to Doug Hysjulien, who was wandering in a valley and clutching the front of his underwear. The rest of his clothes were gone.

“They’re over there,” Hysjulien shouted, pointing toward the fiery rig. “Go help the other boys. They’re worse.”

Stanfill sprinted until he spotted Ray Hardy, who had been hurled into a patch of gravel. His skin was charred black and peeling. His nails were bent back, exposing the stark white bones of his fingers.

“How many people were on the rig?” Stanfill asked Hardy.

“He’s over there,” Hardy responded, gazing toward a field near the rig. Stanfill scrambled over a berm and waded through knee-high wheat until he found Michael Twinn, lying on his back naked and seared. His hair was singed and his work boots had curled up in the heat. He cried out in agony.

“The derrick man’s dead! The derrick man’s dead!” Twinn screamed.

“They were beyond burned,” Stanfill recalled. “Nothing but char. The smell of flesh burning. … It smelled of crude oil.”

Brendan Wegner, 21, had been scrambling down a derrick ladder when the well exploded, consuming him in a fiery tornado of oil and petroleum vapors. Rescuers found his body pinned under a heap of twisted steel pipes melted by the inferno. His charred hands were recovered later, still gripping the derrick ladder. It was his first day on the rig.

Hardy died the next day of his burns. Twinn had his lower legs amputated. Dogged by post-traumatic stress disorder, he killed himself in October 2013. Each left behind three children. Hysjulien suffered debilitating third-degree burns over half of his body. He is the lone survivor.

To this day, the explosion – pieced together from interviews, court documents and federal and local reports – remains the worst accident in the expansive Bakken oil fields since the boom began in 2006.

Beyond the human toll from that day, which continues to haunt Stanfill and others, the 2011 explosion offers a striking illustration of how big oil companies have largely written the rules governing their own accountability for accidents.

Read the entire article here.

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