Family of Wellington man killed in Oklahoma explosion sues oil companies
Family and friends gather to remember Cody Risk of Wellington. Risk was among five people killed in an oil rig explosion on Jan. 22 near Quinton, Oklahoma. Austin Humphreys
Cody Risk, 26, was one of five people killed in the Jan. 22 explosion, deemed one of the deadliest oil and gas industry accidents since the explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 that killed 11 people.
And now, Risk’s children “don’t have their dad; they don’t have barely anything left,” said Charles Levi Brite, who is the legal guardian of Risk’s children.
Brite has filed one of the five lawsuits against Red Mountain Energy LLC, Red Mountain Operating LLC, Crescent Consulting LLC, Jim Brody Blagg, National Oilwell Vargo LP, Patterson-UTI Drilling Company LLC and Patterson-UTI Energy Inc.
Red Mountain is the leaseholder and operator of the well, and Patterson-UTI is the drilling contractor, according to the Chemical Safety Board.
Prior to his death, Risk lived with Brite, who is no stranger to the oil and gas industry. He’s also not an opponent; he’s worked in the industry for 29 years.
“I’m the biggest advocate behind holding these people accountable,” Brite said.
Brite’s lawsuit “arises out of yet another tragic preventable incident caused by irresponsible companies working in the oilfield who place money and profit over safety and human life,” it states.
Multiple federal agencies are still investigating the explosion.
Red Mountain entered into a contract with Patterson to drill the well at the explosion site, and Red Mountain agreed to be “solely responsible and assume liability for ALL consequences of operations of both parties,” according to the lawsuit, despite what it called “Patterson’s less than stellar safety record.”
According to the complaint, an uncontrolled release of gas occurred during the drilling operation, which mixed with oxygen and caused an explosion and a fire, which is consistent with initial reports on the origin of the explosion.
Red Mountain’s “company men” were holding expired Well Control Certificates, according to the complaint, and “failed to take necessary steps to control the well.”
“When the explosion occurred, Mr. Risk was trapped in the Doghouse, a building located on the Rig Floor, unable to get out, he burned to death,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit contends Red Mountain allowed for dangerous conditions on the premises, including hazardous work at the well site, and failed to provide any training or safety policies and procedures connected with the operations at the well site.
Patterson, according to the lawsuit, was also grossly negligent, failing to properly train the crew about the hazards on the site.
The complaint cites Oklahoma Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao’s denouncement of Patterson’s safety record after a worker was killed in 2004 and a special investigation by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy that led to a 2008 report titled “Discounting Death: (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)’s Failure to Punish Safety Violations that Kill Workers.”
Thirty-eight people have died in incidents involving Patterson between 1999 and 2004, according to the report.
Representatives from both Patterson and Red Mountain did not return requests for comment.
David Rumley, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said Patterson, in particular, is “notorious for choosing money over safety” and said he’s been litigating cases against the company since 2006.
Despite citations from OSHA, Patterson negotiates its way through the process, Rumley said.
“How many people have to die before they literally come in and shut them down?” Rumley asked.
According to Rumley, attorneys have filed a motion to consolidate the five lawsuits into one, and they expect a response from the companies May 9.
“Red Mountain needs to understand the seriousness behind the situation that they created and the situation that they allowed to go on. … I pray to God every day that no other family has to go through what we’ve been through,” Brite said.
This story has a clarification: An initial version of this said the family was seeking $10,000 in damages. Rather, the lawsuit says the family has sustained at least $10,000 in damages, which “his estate is entitled to recover.”
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