DAMMAM, 19 November 2007 — At least 28 people were killed and 10 others injured yesterday when a fire broke out after a gas pipeline explosion in the Eastern Province, Saudi Aramco said. “Twenty-eight people, including five employees of Saudi Aramco, died,” said a spokesperson for the company, without giving details or the nationalities of the dead.
The fire broke out around 12:25 a.m. on the Haradh-Othmaniya gas pipeline, 30 km from Hawiyah gas plant, where maintenance work for new tie-ins was being conducted, Aramco said.
“Emergency response teams were immediately mobilized; affected lines have been isolated and the fire has been brought under control,” it added.
There was no immediate suggestion of a terrorist link to the incident. The Kingdom has been fighting suspected Al-Qaeda militants for more than four years, and in February 2006 announced it had foiled an attempt to blow up an oil processing plant, the world’s largest, in Abqaiq. A high-level technical committee has been set up to investigate yesterday’s accident. Aramco said the site was being operated by a contractor, and the incident did not affect production or distribution. “Necessary operational adjustments have been made to the gas system to normalize operations to ensure continuity of fuel supply,” the oil giant said.
An industry source said the gas carried by 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 the pipeline, the source said, adding that the gas plant was unaffected.
Diplomatic sources said most of the dead appeared to be Asian workers along with at least one Lebanese national. They said no Western victims had been identified. “It appears to be an accident rather than an act of sabotage,” one diplomat said.
King Fahd Hospital in Al-Ahsa received 10 non-Saudi workers who were injured and three of them left the hospital after receiving treatment. Two of the injured had first and second degree burns while the remaining are in stable condition.
In July this year, four Asian workers died and 12 others were injured in a fire at 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.
Aramco is undertaking projects to boost output at the natural gas liquids recovery plant in Hawiyah. The Hawiyah plant is one of the Kingdom’s major gas-processing plants, built in the desert near the Al-Ghawar oil field, the world’s largest, south of Dhahran.
The plant was opened 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.
The project will provide petrochemical feedstock to the twin industrial cities of Jubail and Yanbu.
— Additional input from P.K. Abdul Ghafour