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In each case, authorities at first assumed the men had been poisoned by hydrogen sulfide, or "sour gas," a well-known killer in the oil field (, Oct. Most anyone in the oil and gas industry knows sour gas kills.

Far fewer know the vaporous petroleum that collects in storage tanks can have the same effect -- a quick death.

Laboratory tests turned up small amounts of propane and butane in Vigus' blood. Other oil and gas chemicals could have gone undetected, because the test was done for recreational drug use ("glue sniffing" or "huffing") rather than exposure to industrial chemicals.

The Billings, Mont., pathologist who did the autopsy, Thomas Bennett, wrote only that the toxicology test found caffeine and nicotine, ignoring the propane and butane results.

Zachary Buckles, 20, of Glasgow, Mont., was working for a small contractor, Black Gold Testing, in April when he was found dead with his head over a tank hatch at a Continental Resources Inc. In some cases, the investigations show notable inconsistencies in their findings.