A trucking company and its owner are guilty of multiple charges after an explosion and ensuing cover-up at a gas processing facility in Wibaux, Montana.
Woody’s Trucking, LLC and Donald E. Wood, Jr. were found guilty May 22 in federal court after an 8-day jury trial in Billings, Montana.
Both defendants were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, placarding violations and obstruction of justice stemming from the explosion at an oil and gas processing facility in Wibaux. The defendants ended up convicted of 13 of 14 counts. Forfeiture in the case amounts to $644,689.70.
On December 29, 2012, a driver for Woody’s Trucking, loaded natural gas condensate, or “drip gas,” from a pipeline station that transports products from the Bakken oil fields in Montana and North Dakota.
The drip gas was hauled from Watford City, North Dakota, to Custom Carbon Processing, Inc. (CCP). CCP is a slop-oil processing/recycling company based near Wibaux, Montana. The bill of lading that accompanied the shipment identified the product as “slop oil and water,” which is a non-hazardous substance.
However, while the driver was pumping from the truck’s front tank into the CCP facility, a fire ignited, seriously injuring three employees. The tanks on the truck burned for eight days until the local fire department could determine that they held drip gas and not slop oil and water, as indicated on the bill of lading. Drip gas is a hazardous material and the truck was not placarded to indicate it held a flammable liquid.
Witnesses at trial testified the chief executive of the company, Donald Wood, Jr., directed the driver to place a falsified Bill of Lading in the burned out truck several days after the explosion. The reason was to cover up the that the company was hauling drip gas without placards. Furthermore, the company had no insurance coverage for hauling drip gas.
Sometime after the explosion, the employees of the burned facility sued Woody’s Trucking, the owners of the CCP facility and others for negligence in a civil action.
Woody’s submitted the lawsuit to their insurance company for payment of costs, attorney fees and payment of the eventual settlements to the injured workers. The insurance company agreed to settle the claims, but always maintained there was no coverage for hauling drip gas.
“Mislabeling and submitting false documents to conceal the presence of explosive material on public highways are serious criminal matters that will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme. “As this case demonstrates, the failure to properly disclose and label hazardous materials can endanger lives.”
“The defendants in this case tried to cover up safety violations by providing falsified documents to first responders, showing little regard for the safety of first responders, public health, or environmental damage,” said Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s guilty verdict shows that EPA, our law enforcement partners, and the jury agree that those who choose to disregard laws designed to keep our communities safe from chemical accidents should be held accountable for their actions.”