An operator and two servicing companies' failure to control a North Dakota oil well properly led to a flash fire that killed one worker and injured three others, federal investigators have found.

A 52-year-old employee of Most Wanted Well Service suffered fatal fall injuries and burns in the June 18, 2016 incident at a Watford City, North Dakota well site. Two other Most Wanted employees and a worker employed Sherwood Enterprise also suffered severe burn injuries. That worker was operating a service rig and tripping pipe out of the well during a snubbing operation when the incident occurred.

Following an investigation, OSHA issued serious safety violations to the well's operator, XTO Energy and the two servicing companies, Most Wanted Well Service LLC, and Sherwood Enterprises Inc.

Catastrophic consequences

"Employers who are directly involved in well servicing operations must coordinate their actions to ensure well control is maintained at all times. Failing to do so can result in catastrophic consequences such as this case where one man lost his life and three others suffered debilitating burns," said Eric Brooks, OSHA's area director in Bismarck. "Communication between the host employer and all contractors is critical in working safely at any site."

Agency investigators determined that while trouble shooting a problem with the drill string, the employers on site failed to maintain well control resulting in a release of hydrocarbons causing an explosion and subsequent flash fire.


OSHA cited the Rock Springs, Wyoming-based company for two serious violations for failing to:

  • Maintain well control exposing workers to fire and explosion hazards.
  • Provide flame retardant clothing to employees exposed to flash fire hazards.

Proposed penalties are $24,942.

OSHA cited one serious violation and proposed penalties of $12,471 to the Big Piney, Wyoming-based company for failing to maintain well control.

OSHA also cited the well operator XTO Energy of Sidney, Montana, for one serious safety violation carrying proposed penalties of $12,471, for failing to maintain well control. XTO Energy's corporate headquarters are in Fort Worth, Texas.