BILLINGS, Mont. -- Family members of a Montana man found dead at a Bakken oil collection tank in 2013 are suing a Texas-based oil company.
Blaine P. Otto of Sidney was discovered dead on a catwalk where he was inspecting oil levels on July 18, 2013. His brother, Bradley T. Otto, acting as representative of Otto's estate, is suing Newfield Exploration Co.
Otto's family contends the oil field worker was killed by toxic gases released at the site in North Dakota's McKenzie County. He was found dead next to a tank hatch with a removed cover.
Newfield has denied any liability. Otto's death certificate indicates the 39-year-old man's death was natural, because of heart problems and obesity.
Investigator John Hiatt, who has uncovered the cause of several Bakken deaths similar to Otto's, said heart attack is frequently mistaken as the cause of death when exposure to toxic gases is the cause. The gases released when tank hatches are opened dissipate by the time victims are found. Coroners processing the scene typically check natural causes as the cause of death with no apparent sign of an accident, he said.
At least nine other deaths have occurred in the Bakken under similar circumstances, according to the lawsuit. Newfield had an obligation to minimize the danger of its well site, Otto contends. Hazardous vapors were a known threat at Bakken wells, he claims.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Billings on July 15, asks for unspecified damages.