Posts Tagged ‘montana’

Oil Patch Code Blue: Beautiful Man

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

This report aired Sept. 11, 2013 on Prairie Public. It’s part three of a four-part series on injuries and deaths in North Dakota’s oil patch. Todd Melby was the reporter.

Made possible by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

I’m at a pizza place in Laurel, a small town just west of Billings.

Lacey Breding is at a booth with her daughter and a friend. Outside, the sun is mercilessly hot so everyone is wearing shorts. 

“Whatcha doing, monkey?” says Lacey Breding.

That’s Lacey. She’s watching McKinley, her toddler, fuss with the salt and pepper shakers.

For about a year, Lacey dated a man who worked in North Dakota’s oil fields. They met at a rodeo. She was just there because she had nothing else to do. And then she saw a cute guy with unruly brown hair tucked under his cowboy hat. “I knew his friends, but I’d never had seen him before,”  Breding says.

His name was Dustin Bergsing. The pair started talking, then flirting, then talking some more. Lacey says for the two days of that rodeo, they got to know each other pretty well. “It was like we’d known each other forever,” she says. “I remember going home and texting my little brother and saying, ‘I met this guy tonight and I’m going to marry him someday.’”

Shortly after they started dating, Lacey got pregnant. When McKinley was born, Dustin took the lead. “As soon as she was born, I was terrified of her,” she says. “I didn’t know what to do. And he just stepped right in and took over changing diapers. Taught me how to swaddle her. He just stepped right up like he knew what he was doing.”

Lacey and Dustin, who were both just a couple years out of high school, made plans to spend the rest of their lives together. Dustin landed an oil field job that paid about $60,000 a year. They planned to marry. They planned to buy a house. They planned to open a business together.

Then on one cold January night last year, Dustin reported for work as a well watcher, He worked alone, monitoring fluid levels on giant tanks near Mandaree. He spent most of his time in a trailer. But every two hours, he climbed a ladder, walked across a catwalk and opened the hatches on multiple storage tanks containing oil, frac water and gases. Sometime around midnight, a co-worker called Dustin. When he didn’t respond, the worker drove to the site and found his lifeless body on a catwalk. 

Doctors say he died of “hydrocarbon poisoning due to the inhalation of petroleum vapor.”

He was 21.

“Ahhh, he was beautiful,” Breding says. “He was a beautiful man. He had brown hair. And it was always kinda shaggy, curly like my daughter’s. She has his curls. He had the cutest grin. You could not be mad at him if he had a smile on his face. And his face would turn beat red when he would laugh. I could just see it.”

It’s been more than a year and half since Dustin died. “I have people all the time asking me if I’ve started dating yet or if I’ve found somebody else,” she says. “It drives me crazy because I am so madly in love with that kid. Even now. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to.”

Says her friend Jason Bold, “She might sound like a broken record, but that’s her favorite record.” He’s wearing a tan cowboy hat and eating cheese sticks. He and his girlfriend used to hang out with Lacey and Dustin.

“He was just so awesome fun to be around all the time,” Bold says. “I mean, you can be around some people and after a day or two, you get sick and tired and bored of them. No. I want to be around you all day, every day. You crack me up. You make me giggle. He was so fun. Just thinking about him.”

After Dustin died, Jason was so upset to see Lacey alone with her daughter that he organized the Dustin Bergsing Memorial Bull Ride. The event was held at Miller’s Horse Palace near Laurel. “We had damn near 300 people show up at the horse palace, which is the largest, biggest event the horse palace ever had,: Bold says.

The bull ride raised several thousand dollars for Lacey and baby McKinley, so Jason lassoed a bunch of volunteers, offered up some prize money and put on the bull ride again this year. Another thing about Jason …

He used to work on drilling rigs in the Bakken. He didn’t like it. “They just care about that little green dollar,” Bold says. “That’s all they care about. They don’t care about who you are or where you’re from. All they care about is you get to work, you bust your ass,  and we want to hit TD. You know, total depth or bottom hole. We want to hit oil and move on to the next hole.”

After Dustin died, his mother sued Marathon Oil. They own the well where Dustin died. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money. As is typical in cases like these, Dustin’s mother and his fiancée, Lacey Breding, can’t discuss the details.

So they go on living.

Lacey carries around a soft cover photo album for McKinley. Inside are photos of a father McKinley will never see again.

More stories from the series are here:

Born To Be A Roughneck

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

In cities, people express their style any number of ways, including personal appearance. A man might favor a certain brand of shirt or get his hair cut just so. Style in the oil patch of western North Dakota, is well, uniform: Jeans or overalls, shirt and a ballcap.

So where does personal style come into play?

The pickup truck sticker.

The pickup truck sticker is like a bumper sticker, only it’s placed on the back of a pickup window, not on a bumper.

Since arriving in the oil patch, I’ve become obsessed with these pithy stickers and have snapped lots of photos of them. And if the owner is around, I ask about his sticker.

Like other day in Watford City, there was this sticker on a black truck driven by a burly guy with a thick moustache. It read: “I Came For The Cash Cause I’m Oil Field Trash.” The owner of the sticker was Richard Karpe of Oklahoma. His sticker is a standout in the patch. I’ve seen it and a slightly different version — “Oil Field Trash and Proud” — on several vehicles.

I asked him what he liked about the “Oil Field Trash” sticker. “Just the saying of it,” Karpe says. “Everybody likes it.”

One day while filling up with gas at the Cenex in Watford City, I saw a guy with three stickers on the rear window of his silver Chevy. He wouldn’t give me his name, but he told me he works on a drilling rig. “It’s hard, dirty work. But all and all, it pays big money. Why not do it?” he says.

This guy — we’ll call him Montana Roughneck —has a trio of stickers that tell his life story, from birth to school to present day. His stickers read: “Born To Be A Roughneck. University of Hard Labor. That was my graduatin’. And now it’s Bleep, Fight or Trip Pipe.” Trip pipe? That’s drilling rig jargon for putting pipe into a hole or taking it out.

“I have the stickers because it warns off other roughnecks looking for trouble,” says Montana Roughneck. “It kinda shows you are a little bit of trouble.”

Although Montana Roughneck’s stickers are macho tough, he says others are even more in-your-face. “I’ve seen some pretty foul ones,” he says. “The ones I see are pretty derogatory towards women. A lot of roughnecks have those. I try to shy away from that. This is probably enough. I’ve had people that might be churchgoers that say something about my stickers the way it is.”

While I had Montana Roughneck’s ear, I asked him about a sticker I saw on a pickup parked near Williston High School. “Have you seen the one that says, ‘Welcome to North Dakota. Frankly We Don’t Give A Bleep How You Did It Back Home’?

His reply: “That would most likely pertain to Texans. Lots of Texans come up here believin’ that the Texas way is the best way. Up here, that doesn’t fly.”

A revelation! “So, how does the Texas way differ from the North Dakota/Montana way?” I wondered.

“Texans have the phrase, ‘We invented the oil field,'” Montana Roughneck says. “North Dakotans have the phrase, ‘We perfected it.’ I’ve heard that many times.”

A few days later, I sat next to a Texan at a PBR event in Williston. That’s Professional Bull Riding, not Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Texan looked the part. He wore a big 10-gallon hat and a surly expression. When I tried to make small talk, he stared straight ahead and said he wanted to get lit up. I kept my tape recorder in its case.

By the way, Men aren’t the only ones with stickers. I’ve seen ones in Williston reading “Oil Field Wives: The Backbone of the Oil Field” and “Bad Ass Girls Drive Bad Ass Toys.”

So where do these stickers come from? I’ve been in plenty of truck stop out here and haven’t seen any good ones. I asked Montana Roughneck about that. “Sticker bus right here in Watford City,” he says. “It comes through in the summertime.”

I’ll be on the lookout.

— Todd Melby

Correction: When this story was originally published, we spelled Richard Karpe’s name incorrectly. We also mispronounced Karpe’s name. Black Gold Boom regrets the error. 

Born To Be A Roughneck


Stroke Me

Welcome To North Dakota

Rebel Tinkerbell

Bad Ass Girls

Remember This One Time At Man Camp

Earth First

Oil Field Trash and Proud

North Dakota Crude

Horse Powers For Life


Big Girl Panties

I Wanna Be Like Barbie