Deadly flowback vapors killed 21-year-old Montana man

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UPDATE: Here is a radio update on Dustin’s death.

How is it that in this “information age” people are not informed about the dangers of hydrocarbon gases? It’s not like there haven’t been blog posts and media reports about the impacts of hydrocarbon vapors. Even with the disinformation and the industry PR spin misters the truth is well known and certainly state and federal regulators should know the risks.

How is it then that pollution from Bakken wells caught “everyone” by surprise?

Bakken pollution catches everyone by surprise

A new source of pollution is escaping from all Bakken oil sites and regulators and operators are trying to figure out how much and what to do about it.

Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, said the Bakken-only situation does have serious environmental implications.

They figured out the vapors were coming from the storage tanks. DUH! We’ve been telling people the storage tanks leak.

So this 21-year-old man, father of a 7-week-old infant, died at a Marathon Oil well site…

Private autopsy performed after oil well death
January 16, 2012 3:37 pm
An attorney for the family of a 21-year-old Montana man who was found dead Jan. 7 at a Marathon Oil well in northwestern Dunn County said a second, private autopsy was conducted Friday as part of an investigation into the man’s death.

Paula Jossart, an attorney with the Bremseth Law Firm in Minneapolis, said the firm is representing the mother, fiancee and 7-week-old child of Dustin Bergsing, who was found dead by a co-worker not long after midnight.

Dunn County Sheriff Don Rockvoy and Marathon Oil said Bergsing’s death was not caused by a well incident and Rockvoy said the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas was ruled out as cause of death.

The North Dakota Medical Examiner’s office said its autopsy results will take a month or more of analysis before any determination can be made on the cause of death.

Bergsing was employed by Across Big Sky Flow Testing, of Dickinson. Jossart said he was living alone in a trailer at the well site where he died.

She said the trailer has since been moved from the well, before the firm could do its own investigation there.

Across Big Sky Flow Testing specializes in flowback.

Flowback vapors are what were sickening Arlington residents but Chesapeake Energy assured us it was only steam from hot water. (photos and video HERE)

Flowback vapors are what Colleyville/Southlake residents tested but the city’s consultant claimed there were no harmful vapors during the mini frack.

As the autopsy found, “Dustin Bergsing died of hydrocarbon poisoning due to inhalation of petroleum vapors, according to the death certificate from the North Dakota state forensic examiner.

And we are so surprised to learn that the industry testing found nothing.

“Our analysis and testing of the location following the incident indicated no apparent equipment malfunctions or other abnormalities. We will be further studying the findings of the forensic examiner. We take this very seriously. Our commitment to safety is our top priority, and no injury or loss of life is acceptable. Our thoughts are with the family.”

The Argyle Central Facility, operated by Williams, has several flowback tanks that are supposed to be temporary. These tanks regularly release vapors into the neighborhood. Family have evacuated with their children and pets when the vapors became overwhelming. The TCEQ has refused to take any action.

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UPDATE: If anyone finds out more information, please post it in the comments. Hydrocarbon vapors at all stages of fracking and production can be deadly. It would be helpful to know exactly which hydrocarbons and at what stage killed this young man but like many things to do with this industry we will probably never know.

About Sharon Wilson

Sharon Wilson is considered a leading citizen expert on the impacts of shale oil and gas extraction. She is the go-to person whether it’s top EPA officials from D.C., national and international news networks, or residents facing the shock of eminent domain and the devastating environmental effects of natural gas development in their backyards.


  1. says

    The comment from Ms Feil is about as incredibly offensive as it gets.

    Could you please pull it?

    Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D., Binghaton, NY

  2. GhostBlogger says

    Expect MUCH more spin & dance next week (July 10) on the energy scene, as the NTSB releases it’s Report on the Enbridge spill of 800,000+ gallons of tar sands crude in Michigan. Enbridge knew of 300+ plus “anomalies” on there pipeline that should have been checked out & repaired within 180 days, but, somehow, requested waivers on repair deadlines.


    Expect spin & dance as the amount of crude estimated spilled from that Enbridge leak will go up.


    Expect spin & dance as Enbridge tried to explain why their control room types ignored the possibility of a leak, & restarted pipeline 6B at least twice.


  3. Anonymous says

    I’ll bet there there is a bunch of H2S being produced with the O&G up there in ND. Bad stuff, that H2S.

  4. Leonard Huff says

    First of all, my dig condelescence to the family of that young man and his family. Unforuntaleyt , I have witness alot of “accidents” in this business. It will kill you in three seconds. Just like a airplane accident.
    There are not many people that survied a crash in a airplane. I lost my father in law in one. Not a good experience.

    I guess that way I try to drive in a car with all the experiences that I have gain throughout the yrs to survied the crazy drivers on the road.. One minute you are having a good time with the people in the vehicel and in three seconds who knows who is going to survied a car accident. Hey, spell checker did not work .

    Have a Nice Day!

    One of these day I will run into you and we can sit down and have a Lone Star at one of your places in Fort Worth.

    Have a Nice Day!

    • says

      I’m not sure what driving in a vehicle and plane crashes have to do with this topic.

      CHOICES: Flying in airplanes, driving a car, occupations.

      NOT CHOICES: A company installing heavy industrial mining right in the middle of neighborhoods and operating in an irresponsible manner putting families who live next to these facilities in danger, causing them health issues and increased risk of cancer.

      RECKLESS ENDANGERMENT: Exposing families to dangerous, potentially lethal toxins and LYING about it to cut corners and increase bottom line.

  5. says

    How many times have we heard, “Our commitment to safety is our top priority.” If this were true, why are there so many accidents and fatalities of workers in this field? It is dangerous work. There are not enough safety measures in place, and the most horrific part of it all is that they are now zoning these fields of extraction in residential neighborhoods near homes and schools. Men, women, and children are living in harms way – and often times they have no way to escape the danger.

  6. ND says

    Yes there is a lot of H2S in the Bakken and the Bakken oil itself is now producing H2S, but the site was checked for H2S and this was not the cause of death in this case. The hydrocarbon coming from the oil itself is unreal and deadly and left to release into atmosphere. There is so much hydrocarbon and gas in the oil it has to be flared at loading stations and throws off meters in pipelines. This is not a new problem, ND Oil & Gas and the ND Health Dept have been aware of this for some time and have done nothing to protect workers and residents. We who live around the well sites and activity breath this 24/7 – there is never a clean breath of air to be found. Health problems, death and lost of livestock are common in the area and still ND plays ignorant to the problems. This young man’s life should not have been lost and the State of ND is the responsible party for lack of regulation and enforcement. Not the first and won’t be the last. Just another example of why the Federal EPA must step in to regulate oil & gas – the states cannot be trusted to act on the best interests of the public. Oil and gas in completely out of control.

  7. says

    This is happening all over the world where oil and gas are being extracted, processed and exported. I am tired of politicians telling us it’s a “game changer” and a “bridge fuel” but……………..”IT MUST BE DONE RIGHT” There is nothing right about this process here in PA and we are really starting to feel the negative impacts from natural gas extraction that began here in 2007. We must stop now before there is more damage. As it stands, the negative impacts are far greater than the rewards. The game “You can’t drink money” the “bridge” is leading us to hell.

  8. Lacey Bergsing says

    I, Lacey Bergsing, am the Fiancee and mother of Dustin’s Bergsing’s daughter. There are more than just gases that need to be looked in to when it comes to the safety of the workers in all aspects of the oil fields. Dustin was always telling me things that he had to go through out there on the sites and the majority of them should be considered illegal!!!! When Dustin was hired on with this job the employers made the job seem extremely accomodating. He was provided a brand new trailer to reside in on site, there was another employee on the site splitting the shift with him and everything was easy as pie. But, as the weeks went on the living conditions worsened considerably. The last trailer Dustin resided in at the site that he died had no heat or water. The propane did not work and by the time of his death he was the only worker on the site. This made it so that he was working 24 hour shifts for 2-3 weeks at a time. You don’t even know how exhausted he was only being able to get sleep at half hour intervals for up to 3 weeks. Yes the pay was good but the lack of sleep was almost unbearable for him and you are not allowed to leave the site during those weeks so if you run out of food, drinking water, etc. He was S.O.L. It should be law and mandatory that there are at least 2 workers on each site so the 24 hours in a day can be divided. Not only would that enable workers to get some rest, there would be someone else in case of emergency. Dustin clocked in at 10:00 pm the night he died. The overflow tank alarm went off at 10:10pm. That means Dust died somewhere in those ten minutes. After the alarm went off it took over 5 hours for anyone to arrive to see what was going on. If there had been someone else there, who knows maybe my husband could have been saved. And as for the gases that the workers’ deal with…Each site is deemed clean or dirty before flow back testers are sent out there. If it is rated clean the worker is NOT required to wear a mask while gauging the tanks. It should be law and mandatory for the workers to be wearing a mask EVERYTIME the go out to gauge the tanks no matter if the well is deemed clean or not. The point is there are so so so many things that the companies are not doing to keep their employees’ safe on the job. Why??? because they are cheap and treat their employees’ as if they are expendable. Thank you for your time and I wish you the best in your goals. -Lacey Bergsing

    • says

      Dear Lacey,

      What a horrible story but it is similar to several others I have heard. It seems people are only tools in this industry’s pursuit of quick profits. I’ve heard they throw their tools in the waste/sludge pits when they are threw with them. They don’t have time to slow down and do things better because everyday people are learning the truth and the opposition builds.

      I am sorry for your loss and that your daughter will never know her father. You seem to have a competent attorney so maybe your daughter will have the financial security she needs.

      Maybe through your efforts, workers will be better protected. Please feel free to contact me.

    • elizabeth riebschlaeger says

      To Lacy Bergsing,

      First of all, Lacey, may I offer my deep sympathy to you and to your daughter upon the loss of your loved one and her father.

      Second, thank you for your rational and clear presentation of the issues that lie at the heart of this discussion and of the tragedy that took the life of Dustin. Thank you especially for the calm and peaceful manner in which you stated the case when all natural tendencies upon learning the facts could certainly be rage and desire for revenge.

      What you speak with a great heart is common sense and also simple justice, not a complicated policy designed by corporate executives with their insurance and legal consultants who would limit their liability by looking for loopholes and wiggling out of responsiblity after the fact of fatal accidents such as this one. (One has to ask if crass neglect that leads to the death of a human being–a fellow American, could even be termed “an accident”.)

      So often, it seems to me, that this common sense wisdom from the common people–the citizens involved–is buried under policy and procedure statements as corporations responsible for these tragedies try to bury with that wisdom, the truth of the matter: that what they failed to do caused the death of a human being.

      If teenager proves irresponsible in handling the car they have a license to drive, causing serious injury or death of another, they should turn in the keys and have their license suspended–at least for a period of time, until they can change their behavior. In my opinion, companies who take the “limit our cost and liability” line of reasoning and action in order to evade their responsibility for loss of life or harm to human health, should lose their permit to engage in this industry and their assets should be put up for auction to other more responsible companies.

      Then we would reserve the right to develop our national resources to those companies alone who prove themselves both responsible and respectful toward their employees and the citizens who live and work in the area of their operations. It is that simple, it seems to me.

      Sr. Elizabeth Riebschlaeger, ccvi

  9. says

    I will try to get information on the tank alarm. I suspect there are more than one kind of alarm. Do you have a date? That would be helpful to track down what process was happening on the site. These are important pieces to put together in an effort to force our regulators to protect the public.

    • elizabeth riebschlaeger says

      It is important to note that hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air. This means that as it escapes, it will head for the ground–the worker’s feet. It makes no sense to me to put a H2S monitor on a worker’s hat. By time it reaches his hat and the alarm go off, he could well be dead. Does it take an engineer to figure that out? What qualifications do the people who designed the safety procedures
      for Maraton have?

      • Anonymous says

        If you want to contact me for any reason you can’t reach me at the email I listed. I work in this field and fear even being here,but I will help get facts to parties with interest so long it is in regaurds to public safety and enviromental hazards if given a safe way of doing so.
        I work doing the same thing the man who lost his life did and I can answer some of the questions I see here.
        @ Elizabeth It’s not safe to wear on your hat and is not the way The company I work for trains employees to do. Some employees will do this at their own choosing and it could cost your life. Honestly I don’t think it matters where you place it because if the concentration is high enough it only takes one breath of it and your done for. When opening the hatches gas gushes out for a few seconds strong as your face in a fan. If the concentration were high enough and you took a breath as you opened it you’d be dead.
        As for the tanks leaking from the hatches. not all tanks will leak but I’ve had jobs where the hatches were bouncing non stop for my 7 week stay. These lids are heavy and made of brass I believe so That’s a good amount of gas leakage no doubt. I do know the companies have planes flying over with devices that check for leaks but I don’t know how often or how well they work.
        I started in this field 8 months ago and I’ve been sickly ever since. Each time I arrive at a new job I’m sick the first week or so with stomach pains and diarrhea. I even went to the ER on my last job after staying sick an entire month. My boss said it’s not possible that i’m getting sick for being there,but I find it hard to imagine that It’s just coincidence.

        • says

          You can contact me. Up at the top click on contact me and it will send me an email. I will reply with my phone number. I have talked to many people like you who need a job but want to make the industry safer. Many of the chemicals you are being exposed to cause digestive issues. This is a very common complaint.

  10. elizabeth riebschlaeger says

    “Our thoughts are with the family”, the apparent offer of “sympathy” from Marathon and the operators of this facilty/fatal “accident”? scene is pretty weak. It leads one to think that the reason why the “thoughts” of the corporation are “with the family” is because they are thinking about the lawsuit that may follow, and the financial losses they will suffer. This is, of course, only a pretense at sympathy. It is no expression of care and concern for the widow and baby daughter of this victim of their operations. It seems rather to be their own self-centered concern that underlies the statement.

    Of course, they have to be careful not to give any indication of possible responsiblity on their part. That’s probably the advice of their law firm. The saddest thing about this whole “shale boom” is that it seems, in all places, to be truly testing if not destroying the human values and care for each other that built this nation. It appears to be destroying the humanity of corporations and legal firms themselves as the financial gains/losses ratio become the “new god” they serve. As a result, Americans cannot trust their own fellow Americans with their safety and security or the health and lives of their families.

    Where is the real concern for the family and others like theirs? The only sincere expression of sympathy from the corporation, the state of North Dakota, the Congress and others in the industry can only be the reform of their practices , new standards of safety, change of policy and behavior with regard to working conditions for their employees. Simply speaking, act on what is obvious to thousands across the country with any experience of the dark side of this “boom”.

    With this record of damages and losses to human life and health, corporations would do well to replace the executives who set these dangerous policies and practices standards with men and women of conscience who truly care for their fellow Americans’ safety and health in all their operations. Rebuild the trust we need to be able to place in our fellow citizens. Restore the moral fabric of our life together as business communities and a nation.

    As my own late very honest and sincerely loving mother used to say to me in referring to my questionable behavior as a child: “What you are doing speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying, anymore”. I got the point. Will the corporations and government officials sworn to protect the common good of the citizens they serve get the point? As it stands now, with every incident like this one, with every story of the risk of lives for workers and your fellow citizens in commuities at risk, the millions you are investing in the PR “spin-producers” is a big waste for you. “What you are doing speaks so loudly that we cannot hear what you are saying, anymore”. You will do yourselves, your fellow Americans and our national security a favor if you admit your own need to change to the public and then literally “put your money where your mouth is” as another saying goes.

    • says

      Elizabeth would you please email me, I am needing help in researching this up in the North Dakotas, my husband was damaged from the H2S and I am needing help with some research of others that might be having the same issues or are having undetected symptoms that they are trying to figure out what is happening to them because all the test is showing nothing. I am needing help in reaching out. Please email me at I have spoken to Sharon on the phone and she is a great help.

  11. GhostBlogger says

    Something I’m seeing on Facebook from the NTSB looking into a major pipeline spill 2 years ago:

    “If companies commit to safety with the same vigor that they pursue profits, then we will see integrity management programs with real integrity.”

    -NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman

    I’m guessing that would mean fewer drilling accidents if drillers did the same thing.

  12. Lacey Bergsing says

    Thank You all for you sympathy and concern it means a lot to me. My secondary goal in all this, next to getting some kind of reimbursement for my daughter, ( not that any amount of money or anything could ever replace knowing and having her father in her life), is to try and make the work place safer for the employees so that maybe this won’t be happening again to anyone else. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. And to be honest in the 4 months that Dustin was employed in this occupation there was only a total of around a month all added together that Dustin felt healthy and that was on his week’s off. He always had a headache while he was on the job and when he would come home his body and clothing reaked of fumes and it was impossible for him to wash it off and for me to wash it out of his clothing. I kept telling him something wasn’t right and that it couldn’t be healthy to have that crap soaking into your skin for 3 weeks at a time but he wouldn’t listen he’d say it is just part of the job. The Autopsy showed no damage to any organs but I still believe that those fumes were building up inside him and on that dreadful day of his death his body couldn’t handle anymore. This has to be STOPPED and PREVENTED!!! these are people’s lives we’re talking about not tools to be using up left and right. and as for the tank alarms, I am only aware of two kinds of alarms from discussions with Dust previous to his death. One was the H2S alarm that was located on the worker’s hard hat. this alarm is suppose to go off at any trace of H2S so the worker may have a change to get away. The high tank alarms go off when the storage tanks are getting close to full. Dustin was a flow back tester. As he explained it, after an oil rig is moved, there is still oil in the well and natural pressure makes it rise and go into storage tanks. His job was to every half hour (all 24 hours of a day) to go drop a gauge down the tanks and record the reading. when the tank was getting close to full he’d have to call a trucker to come remove the oil in barrels and it would start over again.

    • says

      Lacey, You are helping a lot by speaking out. They place these facilities right next to whole neighborhoods. When people complain of health effects from the fumes, they tell us it’s just steam from hot water.

      It is reckless endangerment that they do not require their workers to wear protective gear but the reason for that is the public might see and would be doubly alarmed. It would justify our desire to keep these facilities away from families.

      It is tragic that men like Dustin feel they must preform these risky jobs to take care of their families. I wish Dustin had worked at a plant building and installing solar panels. As far as I know, a solar panel has never killed anyone.

    • witnessed says

      I am a 18 yr veteran of the oil & Gas field and can tell you by first hand experience that there is H2S and hydrocarbons that may be present at all well sites especially in production tanks! I just completed a well where H2S was present and our mionitors were going off and then stopped after about 1 or 2 hrs! We notified our supervisor and were told to wait and see what happens and eventually our alarms stopped going off ! We had another man who when he opened the lid of a production tank got a blast of fumes from a tank because he opened it while the production unit was dumping into the tank. If they say there is no problem then why does every production tank have lids that are latched to maintain a set amount of psi from fumes and vent lines coming out the top that usually runs back to a flare line or vented to the atmosphere. No one should ever die on these locations and I am sorry for your loss!

  13. Alma Hasse says


    My heart goes out to you and your baby daughter.

    Obviously you are a very caring individual to be reaching out and trying to help others after suffering such a catastrophic loss. Thank you for being such a kind and compassionate human being.

    I just wanted to let you know that your willingness to share your experiences is greatly appreciated– more than I can possibly express.

    You see there are a lot of us who have been desperately trying to get the word out about the conditions on these rigs. We’re met hostility and labeled as “fear-mongers”, just because we’re trying to protect our families and communities.

    As you know firsthand, the people who are being affected the worst cannot speak out. If they did they’d probably lose their jobs. Your willingness to speak out about the conditions on those rigs– and having direct knowledge– is key to breaking the “code of silence” and the beginning (hopefully anyway) of a frank discussion about the REAL risks associated with this industry.

    It is my sincere hope that you find peace, and that your daughter grows up with the same warrior spirit that it would appear her mother is blessed with.

    I pray that you and your family find comfort and healing.

    Alma Hasse

  14. Lacey Bergsing says

    I want to help in any way I can. This should not be happening. People keep saying that the worker’s are paid so much because of the danger. Thats ridiculous!!! I understand that the oil business is one of our countries biggest incomes but if it risks the lives of large numbers of citizens of the country, which it clearly does, than it should be shut down until safer ways are found. You don’t see nuclear bombs being set off for testing in areas all over the country as u see oil rigs in ever state. why is that? because it is hazardous to the health of the citizens! how is there any difference!ugh! i could go on all day long I’m so frustrated!!!! not to mention the ”workman’s’ comp” the companies tell u all about before u take the job! thats all bull too. every aspect of this industry is made of lies, deceit and love of money.

    • says

      The industry pays high salaries not to compensate for danger but to buy loyalty and silence. I know. I used to work in the industry.

  15. Jason says

    The loss of this mans life is very tragic indeed. My heart goes out to his family. However, I have noticed a few problems in the comments regarding “misinformation”. I have been in the oilfield for almost two years and the majority of it has been spent as a flowback operator. It seems the company the man worked for should be deemed liable for having him work in such terrible conditions. I do the same job but there are two crews of 3+ of us who switch off every twelve hours and are required to wear our monitors no higher than chest-level. There are companies operating in the bakken who should not be because of how they treat their employees and knowingly send them into hazardous conditions without proper protection. I guess my point is that I believe the entire oilfield force shouldn’t get a bad rep because of crack-job companies like the one in question. There are some who truly treat their employees as their most valuable asset and do everything in power to make sure they are safe at all times.

      • witnessed says

        Then you are just lucky you haven’t been sick because of the fumes from production tank batteries. Answer this for me …… your H2S monitor is great but when you open a tank lid to strap the fluid inside have you ever got a breathe of the fumes inside and your monitor not go off. Remember H2S is not the only vapor, gas that can kill on a location ! I have been in the field 18 yrs and I know 1st hand that the fumes from some of the tanks can and will put you in the hospital because of hydrocarbons and the aftermath of fraccing! You sir with the belief that it’s all got to do with the company are completely blind with the hazards. Every well has the same hazards when in the right conditions. From Texas to N. Dakota to Pennsylvania every shale play in the world has the same hydro carbons that are a health risk to the men and women who work in the field ! Not to mention the families and home owners who live in that area! Big oil & gas brings big money . If you don’t have the money as a employee or citizen to fight the big oil money you get cover ups. Coal mining has done it for years at the expense of environment and public health ! There is NO such thing as green flowback!!!!

  16. witnessed says

    I have been in the oilfield for 18 yrs. I have seen spills covered up . I have seen men doing their job get blasted in the face by fumes from production tanks and be sick but yet get told they are ok. I have seen companies run into bridges with equipment and nothing get reported . I have seen first hand supervisors tell hands to keep there mouths shut about H2S gas being released. The oil and gas industry is one of the most corrupt buissness there is . From the good ole boy system to blatant lieing and coverups of spills and personal accidents. How many times do people complain about all of these and they get fired or forced to quit to keep their mouths shut or they just don’t know because they are new to the field.

    • says

      I have had industry workers call me to tell me that they were in the process of covering up a spill. These workers were upset about it and wanted to get it stopped. There are good people working in the oil and gas industry who just need a job but they don’t like what they see.


  1. […] Did your fracking job turn out all wrong? I, Lacey Bergsing, am the Fiancee and mother of Dustin’s Bergsing’s daughter. There are more than just gases that need to be looked in to when it comes to the safety of the workers in all aspects of the oil fields. Dustin was always telling me things that he had to go through out there on the sites and the majority of them should be considered illegal!!!! …read more about that on Deadly flowback vapors killed 21-year-old Montana man […]