US agency says Houston-based oil company could have prevented North Dakota worker's death

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WILLISTON, North Dakota — A Houston-based oil company could have prevented a 28-year-old Alabama man's death by properly maintaining the water hauling tank that exploded while he was working in it in North Dakota, federal safety investigators said Wednesday.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it has issued one willful and four serious safety citations against Nabors Completion and Production Services Co. The company faces $97,200 in proposed penalties for allegedly failing to clean the water tank in which Dustin Payne was welding.

Payne, a Marine veteran from Hazel Green, Alabama, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was welding inside the tank when vapors ignited. He was injured in the Oct. 3 explosion and flown to a Minot hospital, where he died five days later. He is one of six workers who have died in the Williston Basin formation since October 2014.

"Dustin Payne and his fiancé should be discussing marriage and their future together. Instead, she is left stricken and trying to move forward without him. This tragic incident was recognizable and preventable," said Eric Brooks, the Bismarck director for OSHA, in a statement.

A call to Nabors was not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

The willful violation cites Nabors for failing to clean the container of oil residue thoroughly. The four serious citations were issued to the company for allegedly failing to inspect welding areas prior to work; vent container spaces; separate oxygen and fuel-gas cylinders; and provide a fire watch.

Nabors can either comply with the penalties, request an informal conference with OSHA's local director or contest the findings before the agency's independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Brooks, the local director for OSHA, said containers of oil production water have the potential to contain flammable vapors even after they're emptied. No container should be assumed to be safe for welding operations, he said.

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