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C&J ordered to pay $2m in oilfield worker death

US pressure pumper pleads guilty to charges related to fatal 2014 explosion

C&J Energy Services has been ordered to pay more than $2 million in fines and restitution after pleading guilty on Wednesday to charges related to the 2014 death of an oilfield worker in North Dakota.

C&J must pay a $500,000 fine and $1.6 million in restitution the estate of Dustin Payne. The 28-year-old worker was fatally injured in an explosion on a tanker trailer that was used to haul produced water, but had not been cleaned or vented, according to court documents.

According to the US Department of Justice, Payne was welding on the tanker when the explosion occurred on 3 October 2014. At the time, he was working for Nabors Completion & Production Services (NCPS), which merged with C&J in 2015. He died on 8 October 2014.

"Federal law makes it illegal to weld on tanks or other containers that have not been thoroughly cleaned to remove all flammable materials and explosion hazards," the DOJ said.

Under a deal struck with the prosecution, C&J pleaded guilty to a willful violation of the standard requiring that tanks be cleaned before welding.

Click here to read the plea bargain.

According to court documents, the practice of welding on improperly cleaned produced water trucks had become systematic for NCPS.

The company, driven by a "business need" to keep as many trucks on the road as possible at the height of the shale boom, was by September 2014 "repeatedly" repairing leaky tanker trucks by welding patches over the holes or using wire-fed welding equipment, prosecutors said.

In addition to the penalties, the C&J is also subject to a three-year probation, during which the company must allow the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration to inspect its facilities and equipment across the country without a warrant, without advance notice and without a specified inspection reason.

"NCPS knew that it was against the law to weld on uncleaned tanks and had written policies prohibiting the practice," the DOJ said.

"NCPS policies mandated special training for welders and internal auditing procedures to make sure that welding rules were actually being followed. However, NCPS did not provide welding-specific training to Payne or other welders at the Williston facility, did not effectively supervise the work of the Williston welders, did not require the welders to obtain hot work permits prior to welding and did not follow internal auditing procedures."

Payne was a Marine Corps veteran of campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and had only recently moved to North Dakota to work in the oil industry when he died, the DOJ said.

"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," said US Attorney Drew Wrigley for the District of North Dakota.

"Companies have an obligation to educate North Dakota workers and when they fail to meet those obligations, we will hold them accountable."

A spokesperson for C&J called Payne's death a tragedy and said the company was sorry for his loss.

"The fact that the incident occurred at a time when NCPS was owned and managed by Nabors Industries...makes it no less significant to C&J Energy Services," spokesperson Danielle Hunter said.

"C&J acquired NCPS from Nabors approximately five months after the incident, and renamed the company C&J Well Services (CJWS). Under the new ownership, CJWS co-operated fully to reach a resolution with the government's investigation and accepted responsibility."

She added: "C&J Energy Services is committed to taking care of our people and our communities, and especially our veterans. Safe work practices in the CJWS business and across all our operations is our top priority."

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