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Salem Widow Warns Of ND Oil Rig Dangers

May 15, 2014, 5:59 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Salem Widow Warns Of ND Oil Rig Dangers
Rich Ries


He was a hard-working welder, handyman and family man from Salem, South Dakota. Rich Ries went to North Dakota in late 2011 to provide for his wife and two children.

"We had things coming up and we were just like, 'We're doing fine but this will just help us get ahead,'" Rich's widow Cathy Ries said Thursday.

The 38-year-old had heard about the oil boom and the money that could be made. His wife, Cathy, says he was one of the most well-respected and experienced workers on his rig almost immediately.

"There are a lot of drug problems up there. They used to call Rich 'Mr. Clean' because he's the only one that hadn't been in jail," Cathy said.

But in January of 2012, after just three months on the job, Rich was killed. A boiler that keeps the rig warm had been smoking and the day shift crew didn't shut it off because they thought Ries knew more about equipment than they did. When Rich came in to work that night, it would be his last shift. Rich took one look at the boiler and knew it needed to be shut off.

"My husband said, 'Let's go,' and it blew up. It blew his friend out the door and it crushed my husband," Cathy said.

The state's chief boiler inspector says the tragic accident likely could have been prevented.

2012 Story: ND Oil Field Death Might Have Been Prevented

Cathy knows it could have been avoided if the day shift crew knew what they were doing.

"But the motorman was not that experienced so he didn't know what to do about it so he just left it running instead of shutting it off," Cathy said.

Cathy says that's what makes the North Dakota oil patch so dangerous.

The latest worker-death report from the American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations says the North Dakota oil and gas industry averages more than 100 deaths for every 100,000 workers.

Rich was one of 65 workers killed on the job in North Dakota in 2012 alone, which was the highest number in the country that year.

Read AFL-CIO Death On The Job Report 

It's why Cathy urges others who may think about working in North Dakota to think twice and to think carefully about their loved ones back home.

"When you go, if you go to North Dakota, you need to make sure you're taking care of your family in that way because if you make that choice, there is a higher than average possibility you're going to die," Cathy said.

Cathy says her husband did have life insurance and the company he worked for, Patterson-UTI Drilling Company, paid for her husband's funeral but were only fined $7,000.

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