Saudi pipeline blast kills 28

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An explosion yesterday killed 28 people working on a natural gas pipeline in eastern Saudi Arabia, the kingdom's national oil company said.

The cause of the fire, which broke out just after midnight, was maintenance work, the company, Saudi Aramco, said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi said 12 people were missing and an unspecified number were wounded. The fire did not disrupt gas supplies, he told reporters during an OPEC summit in Riyadh.

The fire broke out while contract workers were linking a new pipe to the pipeline during maintenance, Aramco said.

The blaze occurred about 19 miles from Aramco's Hawiyah gas plant. Five Aramco employees were among the 28 who were killed, said the company, which did not provide information about the other workers.

"The company is taking all necessary measures to guarantee the continuation of the normal gas output," Aramco said.

A Saudi adviser to Saudi Arabia's oil ministry said there was no link between the explosion and the OPEC summit. He said there was no question the fire was an accident and terrorism was ruled out.

"This is purely maintenance-related," the adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

An Aramco official contacted by phone by The Associated Press declined further comment.

Aramco is the world's largest oil producer, located on the country's east coast. The Hawiyah plant produces 310,000 barrels of ethane and NGL daily.