The Bakken oil boom has been a serial killer. Big oil companies have largely written the rules governing their own accountability for accidents, potentially putting workers at risk.
In the early evening of Sept. 14, 2011, at a bend in the Missouri River in North Dakota, Brendan Wegner, 21, was scrambling down a derrick ladder when the oil well he was working on exploded. Rescuers found his body pinned under a heap of melted steel pipes. His charred hands were recovered later, still gripping the derrick ladder. It was his first day on the rig.
Wegner?s co-workers?Ray Hardy, Michael Twinn and Doug Hysjulien?survived the initial blast. But Hardy, whose nails were bent back by the explosion, exposing the stark white bones of his fingers, died the next day of his burns. Twinn would have his lower legs amputated, and dogged by post-traumatic stress disorder, he killed himself in October 2013. Hysjulien, who suffered debilitating third-degree burns over half of his body, 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.
On average, someone dies about every six weeks from an accident in the Bakken?at least 74 since 2006, according to an exclusive analysis by Politico Magazine partner Reveal, part of The Center for Investigative Reporting. This is the first comprehensive accounting of such deaths using data obtained from Canadian and U.S. regulators. The number of deaths is likely even higher because federal regulators don?t have a systematic way to record oil- and gas-related deaths, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn?t include certain fatalities, such as those of independent contractors.
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