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Plant manager avoids prison time after testifying against boss in Wibaux explosion case

Mark Hurst must pay $5,000 fine
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Posted at 4:02 PM, Oct 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-03 18:02:37-04

BILLINGS — The former manager of a Wibaux oil processing plant that exploded in 2012, injuring three workers, avoided federal prison Thursday after testifying against his boss.

Mark Hurst, 44, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Billings to two years probation and a $5,000 fine for federal Clean Air Act-negligent endangerment, according to U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme.

Hurst provided evidence to prosecutors to help convict Peter Margiotta, then-president of plant owner Custom Carbon Processing, on Sept. 27 of charges related to the explosion.

Prosecutors said Margiotta ignored warnings from Hurst that the plant was constructed unsafely with improper ventilation and bad wiring. Hurst also warned Margiotta that the use of natural gas condensate, or drip gas, to thin oil for processing was making conditions ripe for an explosion.

On Dec. 29, 2012, the plant accepted a delivery of natural gas condensate. Vapors filled the building during offloading and ignited, injuring three workers and causing extensive damage to the plant and truck and trailer making the delivery.

A fire burned for five days as firefighters in Wibaux worked to determine the fuel source.

While Hurst blew the whistle on the dangers at the plant, prosecutors also noted he continued to supervise the plant as manager.

“As project manager, the defendant was aware of the danger to the employees and the public at the facility, notified management, and yet the plant continued to operate. Today’s sentence holds the defendant accountable for his actions. Compliance with environmental regulations is required and violators will be prosecuted,”Alme said in a statement.

Custom Carbon Processing is based in Wyoming and owned by a Canadian firm, Green Oasis Environmental Inc. The plant was built at the height of the Bakken shale boom to process waste oil to sell back to producers.

Margiotta has not been sentenced. He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for charges of conspiracy and two counts of Clean Air Act violations.