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A Houston-based oilfield services company has been fined $500,000 and ordered to pay $1.6 million in restitution to the estate of an oilfield worker killed on the job in Williston five years ago.

C&J Well Services, formerly Nabors Completion and Production Services, pleaded guilty in federal court in Bismarck on Wednesday in the October 2014 death of Dustin Payne, of Hazel Green, Ala. Payne, a 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran who came to North Dakota to work in the booming oil industry, died in an explosion while welding on an uncleaned tanker trailer that had carried oilfield waste containing flammable chemicals.

Nabors Completion and Production Services had policies prohibiting workers from welding on unclean tanks. However, the company did not provide proper training to Payne or others at the Williston facility, did not effectively supervise welders, did not require welders to obtain proper permits and did not follow internal auditing procedures, the Justice Department said in a statement.

C&J Well Services reached a deal with federal prosecutors in June, court documents show. The company pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating a federal safety standard.

In addition to ordering the fine and restitution, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland put the company on probation for three years. During that time it must allow the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to inspect its facilities and equipment across the country without a warrant, without advance notice and without a specified inspection reason.

“The North Dakota oil industry attracts thousands of workers from across the country for the prospect of well-paying jobs, and many of those workers initially lack significant oilfield experience,” North Dakota U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said in a statement.  “Companies have an obligation to educate North Dakota workers, and when they fail to meet those obligations, we will hold them accountable.”

C&J Energy Services issued a statement Wednesday calling Payne's death "a tragedy." The company bought Nabors Completion and Production Services about five months after Payne's death and renamed the company C&J Well Services. C&J Energy Services said it "cooperated fully to reach a resolution with the government's investigation and accepted responsibility." 

"C&J Energy Services is committed to taking care of our people and our communities, especially our veterans," Executive Vice President Danielle Hunter said. "Safe work practices in the CJWS business and across all our operations is our top priority."

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Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or Blake.Nicholson@bismarcktribune.com

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