BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
An oil boom in western North Dakota, attracting thousands of workers, has been a profit bonanza for the oil barons. For workers, pressed to maximize "productivity," it has brought jobs along with death and injury.
An oil well explosion September 14 near Williston, N.D., left two workers dead from burn injuries—Brendan Wegner, 21, of Montello, Wisc., and Ray Hardy of Mohall, N.D. Two others—Doug Hysjulien and Michael Twinn—remain hospitalized in critical condition in St. Paul, Minn.
The well, owned by Oasis Petroleum of Texas, is one of 100 the company operates in North Dakota, reported the Bismarck Tribune. Production began there about a month ago. In July a Cyclone Drilling rig exploded near Beach, N.D., critically burning two workers.
Oil rig fatalities in North Dakota for 2011 are now five, up from three last year. The number of injuries so far this year is nearly 1,900, more than a 150 percent increase over all of 2010, Bryan Klipfel, director of North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance, told the media.
The state is experiencing "what many are calling the largest oil boom in recent North American history," noted the Associated Press. Some oil companies project increasing the number of wells there from 5,000 to 48,000 over the next 20 years, reported the New York Times.
"There's oil companies coming from all over the country now," Williston Mayor Ward Koeser told National Public Radio. Unemployment there is less than 2 percent and the town has grown from 12,000 to 20,000 in the last four years. There's "probably between 2,000 and 3,000 job openings in Williston right now," he said.