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Cyclone cited: OSHA finds oil driller violated various safety standards

A higher-up of an out-of-state oil company with a dark past maintains the Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not issue the group an official citation for endangering area workers last year, but OSHA representatives say otherwise.

OSHA cited Gillette, Wyo.-based Cyclone Drilling Inc. with "two repeat, five serious and one other than serious violation of safety and health standards" for exposing rig workers in Ray to electrical, fire and fall hazards, according to a press release sent to The Press on Tuesday. The release also said the company could face $65,600 in penalties.

Cyclone Drilling has a turbulent history in North Dakota.

A Montana man fell 15 feet to his death in 2008 while attempting to change a gasket on a Cyclone Drilling rig 11 miles south of Stanley. In July, three company employees suffered burns 30 miles northeast of Beach when a drilling well caught fire.

Patrick Hladky, contracts manager for Cyclone Drilling, said company representatives plan to hold an informal conference with OSHA to discuss safety issues, adding that the company is not being officially cited for any wrongdoing.

"Nothing's done yet," Hladky said. "It's not final."

The company's repeat violations include employee exposure to a 26-foot fall hazard and a non-functional eye wash station, according to the press release. The release also highlighted the company's "serious" failure to "install connecting pins in the derrick, repair damaged stairs, provide an operable fire extinguisher, guard rotating machinery parts, provide electrical covers, and repair or replace damaged and improperly-strung flexible cords."

An OSHA representative believes company managers at Cyclone Drilling should have noticed and addressed the dangerous conditions.

"The hazards discovered during this inspection are well-recognized within the industry and easily can be corrected to protect employees from needless injuries," said Tom Deutscher, director of OSHA's Bismarck Area Office.

OSHA Spokesperson Rhonda Burke added that because western North Dakota's oil activity has increased significantly in recent years, the Bismarck office launched the Problem Solving Initiative in October to make sure rig sites were safe. She also said there could be more citations to come.

"Numerous sites were inspected under the Problem Solving Initiative," she said.

Burke also said OSHA is required to do an inspection if there is a fatality in the workplace or if three or more people are injured at a site, but the ongoing citation did not stem from past incidents with Cyclone Drilling.