RIYADH Twenty-eight people were killed when a fire broke out in a gas pipeline near the Hawiyah gas plant in Saudi Arabia overnight, Saudi Aramco said on Sunday.
The state oil company said in a statement the fire was caused by a gas leak in the pipeline around 30 km (18 miles) from the natural gas liquids plant, but has since been brought under control. The death toll includes five Aramco employees.
Western diplomats 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.
Aramco is undertaking projects to boost output at the natural gas liquids recovery plant in Hawiyah.
The Hawiyah programme 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-Othmaniya area.
Japan's JGC Corp was awarded the contract for the Hawiyah NGL and related facilities.
Italian Eni's Snamprogetti is carrying out work related to gas treatment and compression facilities. Contracts for communication and plant infrastructure facilities were signed with local contractors.
(Additional reporting by Lin Noueihed in Dubai; Editing by Alison Williams)