Trial delayed until 2020 in fiery rig explosion that left 5 men dead

A Pittsburg County judge has postponed the lone trial that remained and had been scheduled over the 2018 drilling rig fire and explosion in which five men died in the tragic accident near Quinton, Oklahoma.

At the same time, Texas-based National Oilwell Varco, L.P continues its fight to unveil the sealed confidential settlement reached by families of the five victims with Patterson UTI Drilling Co. The settlement was revealed in August 2019 by OK Energy Today and a Discovery Master ruled the settlement would remain a secret.

In recent court filings, District Judge Michael W. Hogan struck a scheduled Nov. 12, 2019 trial date involving the family’s continued lawsuit against National Oilwell Varco, a firm headquartered in Houston. Earlier last summer, the five dismissed their legal action against Red Mountain Operating, LLC; Red Mountain Energy, LLC; RME Arkoma, LLC; Crescent Consulting, LLC; CVM Holdings, LLC; CVM Management LLC; and B and B Drilling Consulting LLC. (OKEnergyToday–July 14, 2019)

Judge Hogan ordered a final pre-trial conference to be held Dec. 16, 2019.

“Matter is moved to the January 2020 sounding docket on Jan. 3 @ 9 a.m.” wrote the judge. The last filing in the docket on the lawsuit against National Oilwell Varco was Oct. 23 when a transcript of an Oct. 9 hearing was received by the court clerk.

Varco continues to fight to get the sealed settlement provided for its use in defense of the lawsuit pursued by the families of victims Josh Ray, Matt Smith, Cody Risk, Parker Waldridge and Roger Cunningham. Judge Hogan followed up the Discovery Master’s decision to withhold the sealed document with a ruling that also kept it secret from Varco attorneys.

In an Oct. 1 ruling, the judge stated, “The Court has reviewed the decision and hereby affirms the decision—-.”

Attorneys for Varco have also asked the judge’s permission “for the jury to visit a NOV driller’s cabin.

“The jury’s ability to view the doghouse in-person serves a valuable role in the fact-finding process because it allows the jury to understand the spatial geography of the doghouse, which is something that truly cannot be gleaned from photographs, videos, computer imaging, or any other aids,” wrote NOV attorneys in their motion.

The attorneys propose to have the doghouse located at the McAlester Expo Center “which is a seven-minute driver from the courthouse” and contend the visit would actually save a”great deal of time” in the trial.

The judge has yet to rule on the firm’s request.

The rig explosion and fire happened Jan. 22, 2018 near the small town of Quinton. In June, 2019, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board concluded in a 158-page report that the failure of safety devices designed to prevent blowouts contributed to the explosion and fire.

The report also found that some of the operations at the Patterson-UTI Energy Inc. drilling site were conducted “without needed planning, equipment,skills or procedures,” thus nullifying the primary barrier designed to prevent a blowout.

Killed in the explosion and fire were Matt Smith of McAlester, Oklahoma; Parker Waldridge of Crescent, Oklahoma; Roger Cunningham from Seminole, Oklahoma; Josh Ray of Fort Worth, Texas; and Cody Risk of Wellington, Colorado. Autopsies determined all five men died of burns and smoke inhalation.