Two men are dead of burn injuries after an oil well exploded Wednesday in rural McKenzie County and two more remain hospitalized at a burn center in Minnesota.
One man was burned to death at the scene and the second died of his injuries Thursday at Region's Hospital Burn Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Brendan Wegner, 21, of Montello, Wis., was dead when rescue workers arrived at the burning well and Ray Hardy, of Mohall, died sometime Thursday morning after being airlifted from Mercy Medical Center in Williston, said McKenzie County Sheriff Ron Rankin.
The two other burn victims, Doug Hysjulien, of Williston, and Michael Twinn, of Tioga, remain hospitalized in critical condition at St. Paul.
Rankin said road construction on Highway 85 slowed medical response and the three who initially survived were put into personal vehicles and transported out to meet the Williston ambulance responders.
He said when his officers reached the scene, the surviving burn victims had been taken for help, but they had not been able to remove Wegner's body.
The cause of the explosion is under investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and others.
OSHA area manager Tim Deutscher said his office investigates all fatalities or hospitalization incidents at work sites and his investigators were at the explosion scene Thursday.
He said fatalities are on the increase and his office has investigated seven fatal accidents in the oil and gas industry in the past year.
"One of the first questions we ask is whether the victim was wearing fire retardant clothing," Deutscher said. Companies are on their own to assess fire risk and require the clothing at job sites, but not all do, he said.
Deutscher said companies who do require the clothing say it has saved lives and minimized injuries in some cases. "It's the old seatbelt rule," he said.
The well is owned by Oasis Petroleum of Texas and chief operating officer Taylor Reid said the company is cooperating with an on-site investigation.
He said the well, one of 100 the company owns in North Dakota, went into production about a month ago and Carlson Well Services, of Powers Lake, was "doing some work" on the well when it exploded.
A call to Carlson Well Services was answered by someone who said he had no comment and that OSHA was at the well site.
McKenzie County Emergency Manager Jerry Samuelson said it's likely that pressurized oil and gas escaped the well during the work over.
"When you're dealing with high pressure, you just never know, anything can happen," Samuelson said.
He said local fire, rescue and ambulance responders are feeling heavy strain from the constant barrage of calls resulting from oil activity. That includes responding to a four-fatality accident Sunday near Mandaree when a pickup carrying two small children collided with a semi truck. All four in the pickup were killed.
"It's part of the whole thing here and it's getting worse. We've got to do something different. These are volunteers and you have to wonder how it works on their minds," Samuelson said.
This is the second, injury-causing oil rig explosion in recent months. A Cyclone Drilling rig exploded July 25 near Beach, severely burning Andrew Rohr of Marmarth, and Timothy Bergee, of Jamestown. Jeff Morton, of Stark County, also was injured in the explosion.
(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 220-5511, or email@example.com.)