KALISPELL — The father of a Kalispell man killed while working in the Bakken oil field filed suit against two out-of-state oil companies this week, alleging that inappropriate and negligent use of equipment led to the death of his 22-year-old son.
The suit, filed in Great Falls U.S. District Court, claims that Pioneer Drilling Services and Whiting Petroleum negligently caused the death of Kyle Winter on Jan. 31, while he was installing pipe at a North Dakota oil well for his employer, Heller Casing.
Winter died when a 1,200-pound piece of equipment fell on him, crushing his chest and abdomen, explained Bozeman attorney Justin Stalpes, who represents the family.
“There are a lot of Montanans who go to the Bakken and are exposed to dangerous conditions,” he said. “These companies are treating workers like expendable equipment out there.”
“The only way to get protection is by holding the companies responsible,” he added.
Winter was installing pipe using a piece of equipment called power tongs when the accident occurred. Power tongs are used to twist the pipe into place at a freshly drilled oil well, Stalpes explained.
“Customarily, prudent drillers use a more secure means of fastening the power tongs to the cable so that, even if tension was reduced, the power tongs could not fall to the rig floor,” Winter’s attorneys wrote in the complaint.
But according to court documents, the tongs used on Jan. 31 were not securely fastened. Rather, the equipment hung loosely on three open hooks and the unstable connection was reinforced with common electrical tape.
The top drive — a piece of equipment used to lower pipe into the drilling well — caught the power tongs’ cable and sent the equipment plummeting onto Winter, who had stepped out of the safe zone in an attempt to warn the machinery’s operator of the increasingly dangerous situation.
You have free articles remaining.
Further, temperatures dropped to a frigid 20 below zero that Friday, rendering the feeble tape even more “brittle and unreliable,” the complaint stated.
Stalpes claims the company had other equipment available to use, but failed to do so.
“Pioneer … had a set of power tongs that were designed for the rig that was being used,” Stalpes said. “But they would not allow Casing employees to use the power tongs. Had they used the other, more appropriate power tongs the accident would have been prevented.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the death and found Pioneer was in serious violation of the industry’s standards, Stalpes said.
But the investigation’s findings only amounted to a fine of a couple thousand of dollars — a result that Stalpes called “egregious.”
Winter’s father Randall is seeking damages from Pioneer Drilling Services, of Texas, the company that owned the equipment and Whiting Petroleum Corporation, of Delaware, the company that owned the actual property where the drilling was taking place.
Heller Casing is not listed as a defendant in the case because under North Dakota state statute, an employer carrying workers compensation insurance cannot be sued for negligence, Stalpes said.
“We sued Pioneer because Pioneer had the equipment that would have prevented the tragedy if they would have allowed Heller Casing to use it,” Stalpes said. “They also failed to inspect and notice this condition on Pioneer’s own drill rig.”
A spokeswoman for Pioneer didn’t return a call requesting comment on Tuesday.