A Montana man pleaded guilty in federal court in the District of North Dakota to a felony charge of obstructing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proceeding stemming from the 2014 death of an oilfield worker in Williston, North Dakota.
Stephan Todd Reisinger, 50, of Kalispell, was a maintenance manager at Nabors Completion and Production Services Company (NCPS) at its Williston facility. He supervised approximately 40 employees, including 28-year old U.S. Marine Corps veteran Dustin Payne. On Oct. 3, 2014, Payne welded on an uncleaned tanker trailer that had previously carried “produced water,” a liquid waste that is generated by oil wells and which contains flammable chemicals. The tank exploded and Payne was fatally injured.
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.
“It is critical that OSHA be able to fully investigate worker safety fatalities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department will prosecute those who impede OSHA’s ability to find out the truth in the course of any safety investigation.”
“Federal workplace laws are designed to protect workers and enhance safety in order to prevent injuries and deaths,” said Special Agent in Charge Andrea M. Kropf of the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, Midwestern Region. “We will continue to work with our federal and law enforcement partners to hold those accountable who jeopardize transportation and hazardous material workers’ safety.”
In a plea agreement with the government, Reisinger admitted to knowing the tanker trailers hauled produced water. During an investigation into Payne’s death, he made false statements in an interview with OSHA, including that he did not know of the hazards and composition of produced water. Reisinger falsely stated that he thought “just water” was in the tanks.
C&J Well Services, the corporate successor to NCPS, previously pleaded guilty to charges related to Payne’s death and on Aug. 28, 2019, was sentenced to pay $2.1 million in fines and restitution. 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. As a result, Payne and other welders repeatedly welded on uncleaned tanks that contained flammable hydrocarbon residue.
OSHA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Criminal Investigation Division and the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General, with additional support from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives investigated the case.
Senior Trial Attorney Christopher Costantini of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme for the District of North Dakota prosecuted the case.