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'Lack of all safety procedures' reported at North Dakota oil well blast that killed 1, injured 2

Oscar Gilberto “la Borre” Gandara, 37, of Liberal, Kansas, died Sept. 15 from injuries he suffered in the drilling rig accident in North Dakota, according to his obituary. Gandara and two of his coworkers were badly burned in the explosion.

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Oscar Gandara.
Submitted photo
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ROSS, N.D. — A Kansas man has died from injuries he received in an explosion at a North Dakota oil well site where a crew member told a sheriff's deputy there was a "lack of all safety procedures."

Oscar Gilberto “la Borre” Gandara, 37, of Liberal, Kansas, died Sept. 15 from injuries he suffered in the drilling rig accident, according to his obituary .

Gandara was one of three men injured in the Sept. 2 oil well blast about 5 miles southwest of Ross, or about 70 miles west of Minot, according to a Mountrail County Sheriff's Office report obtained by The Forum this week through a public records request.

Emergency crews were dispatched at about 10:40 p.m. Sept. 2 to the well site that's owned by Houston-based Chord Energy, the sheriff's office report said.

Gandara, along with two other workers, Ramiro Contreras Lopez and Jose Gonzalez, had severe burn injuries, according to the report.

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The blaze was contained to the well site. When a sheriff's deputy asked what happened to cause the fire, a crew member blamed a "lack of all safety procedures," according to the report.

One crew member told the deputy "there were visible fumes all over the site," and one of the crews told the deputy they felt uncomfortable working at the site, according to the report. As that crew was walking away from a pump that another crew was starting, the well exploded, the report said.

The deputy noted in the report that she did not see any crew members "wearing a visible H2S monitor anywhere on their person." H2S stands for hydrogen sulfide, a flammable, poisonous gas that's associated with oil drilling and has a rotten-egg smell.

Gandara was born in Rosales, Mexico. He is survived by his wife and two daughters, according to his obituary. A Gofundme website was set up to raise money for his family .

In a statement to The Forum, Chord Energy said it was cooperating with Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials as the federal agency investigates the explosion. Chord also is conducting its own investigation into the fire.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the impacted Black Hawk (Energy Services) employees and their families,” Chord Energy said in its statement. “Inquiries about the status of the employees should be directed to Black Hawk.”

When asked about the reported lack of safety procedures, Chord said "an incident of this nature takes time to investigate to understand what happened."

Black Hawk is a subsidiary of the Colorado-based Steel Energy Services. The Forum's attempts to reach Black Hawk leadership by phone were unsuccessful.

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The Forum reached out to OSHA spokespeople for comment but did not receive a response back.

It is common for fumes to come off North Dakota oil well sites, though companies are supposed to capture most of it, said Karl Rockeman, water quality director for the North Dakota Environmental Quality Department.

His department inspected the explosion site on Sept. 12 for environmental releases but found none, Rockeman said.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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