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Texas Oil Well Services Company Sentenced for Fatal Safety Violations

On August 28, C&J Well Services (C&J), an oilfield services company based in Houston, Texas, was sentenced in U.S. District Court, Bismarck, North Dakota, to 36 months’ probation, $1,600,000 in restitution to the victim’s estate, $500,000 in fines, and a $50 special assessment. The sentence followed C&J’s guilty plea to charges of willfully violating the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, which requires tanks to be cleaned before welding begins to confirm that flammable materials are not present. Under the terms of its probation, C&J must allow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to inspect its facilities and equipment across the country—without a warrant, advance notice, or a specified reason for the inspection.
C&J was formerly known as Nabors Completion and Production Services (NCPS), which provided well services in major, active oil and gas basins in the continental United States. In 2014, oil well operators in Williston, North Dakota, contracted with the local NCPS facility, to haul “produced water” (salt water), which can be flammable, from oil wells to underground injection wells. NCPS transported the water in tanker trailers that were attached to commercial trucks and lined with a protective coating to prevent corrosion by the high salt content in the produced water. However, some of the trailers experienced liner failures, which caused small holes to form and the water to leak. Produced water spills are prohibited by numerous regulations and laws.
On October 3, 2014, one of the leaking tankers was taken on its truck to the NCPS welding bay for repair. The truck was backed into the welding bay garage so a welder could access a small hole located at the rear of the tanker. Counter to the OSH Act, the tanker was neither clean nor vented. When the welder struck his torch on the side of the tanker, hydrocarbon vapors inside ignited, and the tanker exploded, injuring the welder. He died 5 days later.
DOT-OIG conducted this investigation with OSHA and the Department of Labor, Environmental Protection Agency–Criminal Investigation Division, and Department of Justice–Environmental Crimes Section.