Gas pipeline blaze kills 28 in Saudi Arabia

After four died in Ras Tanura fire in July


Twenty-eight people were killed when a fire broke out on a gas pipeline in a desert area of Saudi Arabia on Sunday, state oil conglomerate Saudi Aramco said.

"Twenty-eight people, including five employees of Aramco, died," a spokesperson for the company told AFP, without giving further details or nationalities of the dead.

Aramco said that 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.

The fire broke out at 00:25 am (2125 GMT Saturday) and was later brought under control, said a statement from 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 normalize operations to ensure continuity of fuel supply," the Aramco statement added.

Aramco is undertaking projects to boost output at the natural gas liquids recovery plant in Hawiyah.

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 Hawiyah program will produce 310,000 barrels of ethane and NGL products by 2008, through the plant and an expansion of the Juaymah gas fractionation plant near Ras Tanura.

The project will provide petrochemical feedstock to the industrial cities of Jubail and Yanbu in the kingdom, the world's largest oil exporter.

Aramco sources said the fire was unlikely to cause serious delays to the Hawiyah project, as it broke out some distance away in the Haradh-Uthmaniyah area.

The Hawiyah 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.

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.