An oilfield company and a company executive have been indicted in the 2019 poisonous gas deaths of a worker and his wife. The federal grand jury in Midland, Texas charged Odessa-based Aghorn Operating Inc. and Aghorn Vice President Trent Day with violating federal clean air laws and obstructing a federal job safety investigation, according to a Justice Department news release Tuesday.
They and an Aghorn affiliate also were charged with federal safe water laws and making false statements on forms documenting the mechanical integrity of Aghorn’s injection wells. Aghorn also was charged with three job safety crimes causing the deaths.
“Today’s indictments demonstrate that companies intentionally violating those laws and endangering others will be held responsible for their crimes,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Todd “Tony” Adams of EPA’s Southwest Area Criminal Investigation Program.
Jacob and Natalee Dean died on October 26, 2019, after inhaling hydrogen sulfide gas at an Aghorn pump house in Odessa.
According to the Ector County Sheriff’s Office, Aghorn officials dispatched Jacob Dean to check on the facility. When he didn’t return as expected, his wife tried to reach him by phone but got no answer.
She drove with their two children, ages 6 and 9, to the pump house. She left the vehicle to approach the pump house and also was overcome by the colorless, highly corrosive gas when she entered the building. The children were left in the car and weren’t harmed.
A GoFundMe account was set up for the couple’s children, who are now being taken care of by their grandparents.
A receptionist at Aghorn said the company would have no comment. A law firm that has represented Aghorn in the past did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
“The Justice Department will protect and defend the right to a safe workplace, and we will prosecute those who violate federal law aimed at keeping workers safe,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.