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Company hires investigator to determine cause of North Dakota oil tank explosion, fire

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Whiting Petroleum has hired a third-party investigator to help determine what caused oil tanks to catch fire Saturday at a well site near Watford City in western North Dakota, according to a company spokesperson on Monday, Aug. 20.

The incident, which the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division described as an explosion, prompted several 911 calls Saturday from people reporting black smoke and feeling the ground shake.

Whiting spokeswoman Ashley McNamee said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Eleven contractors were on site on Saturday doing maintenance work, she said. Some workers suffered minor injuries that McNamee characterized as first aid cases. No one suffered burns or required hospitalization, she said.

Some of the wells had recently been drilled and crews were preparing to bring them online this week, McNamee said. The wells continue to be shut down.

The Bismarck office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Monday morning that no injuries had been reported.

The Oil and Gas Division and the North Dakota Department of Health are investigating. A spill report said the fire caused five barrels, or 210 gallons, of oil to spill within the berm around the well site.