Jeff Swensen for ProPublica
Dennis Whedbee's crew was rushing to prepare an oil well for pumping on the Sweet Grass Woman lease site, a speck of dusty plains rich with crude in Mandaree, N.D.
It was getting late that September afternoon in 2012. Whedbee, a 50-year-old derrick hand, was helping another worker remove a pipe fitting on top of the well when it suddenly blew.
Oil and sludge pressurized at more than 700 pounds per square inch tore into Whedbee's body, ripping his left arm off just below the elbow. Co-workers jury-rigged a tourniquet from a sweatshirt and a ratchet strap to stanch his bleeding and got his wife on the phone.
"Babe," he said, "tell everyone I love them."
It was exactly the sort of accident that workers' compensation was designed for.
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