In the early morning hours of January 7, a Montana man — just 21 years old — was found dead at an oil drilling site in northwestern Dunn County, North Dakota. A first autopsy was inconclusive. The second, however, revealed a troubling cause of death.
The young man died from hydrocarbon poisoning. In this case, the hydrocarbon poisoning was brought on by inhaling deadly petroleum vapors, according to the North Dakota forensic examiner.
Marathon Oil ran the well where the young man was found dead. While Marathon expressed condolences to the family of the worker, a Marathon spokeswoman said that their testing found no equipment malfunctions or other safety issues at the site.
In the wake of the death, the victim’s family retained the Bremseth Law Firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and eventually decided to pursue a legal claim for wrongful death.
There is no doubt that work in the oil fields of North Dakota is dangerous and demanding. But, that does not mean workers forfeit their right to safety. While deaths from hydrocarbon poisoning are rare, this instance highlights the unpredictability of the oil business. Even Marathon Oil could not point to anything that had gone wrong in the lead up to the death.
When deaths are occurring on a worksite even without a breach of protocol or an equipment failure, there is obviously room for improvement in the standard operating procedures. While filing a wrongful death claim can never bring back a loved one, it can force responsible parties to take a hard look at their safety policies.
Source: Missoulian, “Montana oil worker dies of hydrocarbon poisoning,” Jessica Holdman, July 6, 2012