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Marathon Oil may have tried to cover up oilfield worker risk

When Dustin Bergsing was found dead at a Marathon Oil worksite, it was the beginning of a wrongful death case that would result in a substantial settlement with his family and the unearthing of some troubling allegations. Bergsing worked alone, and the cause of his death was not immediately apparent.

Eventually, medical examiners determined that hydrocarbon poisoning was the cause of death. Hydrocarbons come from natural gas, which is often released in the process of drilling for crude oil. Without a mechanism in place to properly flare or capture the natural gas, fatal hydrocarbon compounds can fill the air and suffocate nearby workers.

When Bergsing’s family retained attorney Fred Bremseth and began their own investigation of the case, some troubling facts began to emerge.

A former employee of Marathon Oil who was working as an environmental engineer came forward alleging that he informed superiors when he noticed significant amounts of hydrocarbon vapors were escaping from oil storage tanks. The environmental engineer documented the problem, even estimating that lethal amounts of gas were being released. When the engineer emailed superiors asking about why measures to correct the problem were not being taken, he was told not to write such emails because they could be discoverable in future litigation.

Four months after Bergsing lost his life, and after another worker had a close call and became dizzy near some Marathon oil storage tanks, the company finally began issuing air respirators to contractors and employees. But, the damage had been done, and the environmental engineer who had long ago sounded the alarm to company officials was let go for his troubles — although Marathon claimed the termination was due to unrelated performance reasons.

This case goes to show that sometimes it takes legal action to expose the truth, and to get a company responsible for a worker’s death or injury to pay up.

Source: Black Gold Boom, "Oil Patch Code Blue: Juhnke v. Marathon Oil," Todd Melby, Sep. 12, 2013

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