RIYADH (AFP) — Several people were killed and wounded when a fire broke out on a gas pipeline in an oil-rich desert area of Saudi Arabia on Sunday, state oil conglomerate Saudi Aramco said.
The blaze erupted on the Haradh-Uthmaniyah gas pipeline, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from a major gas processing plant at Hawiyah, as maintenance work was being carried out, a statement from Aramco said.
The fire, which broke out at 00:25 am (2125 GMT Saturday), “caused a number of deaths and injuries” and was later brought under control, said Aramco, which runs the oil and gas operations of the world’s top crude producer.
The incident in the oil-rich Eastern Province occurred while Saudi Arabia hosts heads of state at a rare summit of the OPEC oil cartel, which is due to wrap up on Sunday.
“Necessary operational adjustments have been made to the gas system to normalise operations to ensure continuity of fuel supply,” the Aramco statement added.
Aramco did not specify how many people were killed or injured. A source at the company said the exact toll would be announced later Sunday.
Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television, which is Saudi owned, said 10 people died, but an oil industry source said the deaths were “around single figures.”
The industry source who asked not to be named said the gas carried in the pipeline is fed into the domestic network, like all of Saudi Arabia’s gas production, and is not for export.
The fire broke out while workers were welding a plate on to the pipeline, the source said, adding that the gas plant was unaffected.
The Hawiyah plant is one of the major gas processing plants in Saudi Arabia, built in the desert near the Al-Ghawar oil field, the world’s largest, and south of the city of Dhahran, an oil hub.
The plant, which produces 1.4 billion cubic feet (39.6 million cubic metres) of gas a day and cost four billion dollars to build, was launched in October 2002 as the first to process only non-associated gas.
It produces enough natural gas to free up around 260,000 barrels per day of Arabian Light crude oil for export.
In January 2004, Saudi Arabia inaugurated another major natural gas and oil project in Haradh in the Eastern Province, including a gas plant capable of delivering 1.5 billion standard cubic feet (42.4 million cubic metres) per day of sales gas to the kingdom’s master gas system.
Saudi Arabia, which sits on more than a quarter of global oil reserves, has proven natural gas reserves of 239 trillion cubic feet (6.76 trillion cubic metres), the fourth largest.
In July, four Asian workers died and 12 people were injured in a fire at the kingdom’s Ras Tanura oil terminal on the Gulf.
Aramco said the fire at the North Product Terminal broke out while maintenance work was under way and was brought under control within an hour. It did not affect production or loading activities.