Oklahoma Gas Well Explosion Has Left Five People Missing

A pump jack operates at a well site near Guthrie, Oklahoma, in a photo taken on September 15, 2015. A gas well exploded in Quinton, Oklahoma on Monday, January 22. Reuters/Nick Oxford

Updated | An eastern Oklahoma gas well exploded on Monday morning, leaving five people missing. The explosion sparked flames that shot up 50 feet in the air just before 9:00 AM Central time in Pittsburg County, reported KOTV.

The fire occurred between the cities of Quinton and Featherston, around 100 miles southeast of Tulsa. Three medical helicopters were on site, according to Kevin Enloe, the county's emergency manager, as reported by KOTV. The Red Cross was on site with the first responders, according to a press briefing on Monday afternoon. Emergency responders found 17 people who were working on the rig but five were still missing. One person was treated on site for minor burns, reported the Associated Press. The burns did not appear major at first, but the survivor was flown to a hospital in Tulsa to be treated for his wounds, the County Sheriff Chris Morris told Newsweek.

Morris said, "Most everybody was taken off the site and taken to a secure site here in Quinton," according to the Associated Press.

A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma medical examiner's office, Amy Elliott, could not confirm whether there were any deaths until the fire is out and investigators arrive on the scene, reported the Associated Press. "I pray there's not, but we just don't know yet," she said. Elliott did not respond to a request from Newsweek before publication.

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The gas rig was erected a few weeks ago, and is much larger than an oil rig, according to KOTV. The explosion caused the crane-like machinery called a derrick on top of the rig to collapse.

Oklahoma City–based Red Mountain Operating, which is part of Red Mountain Energy, was operating the drilling site, according to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's spokesman Matt Skinner. The company that conducted the drilling itself was Patterson-UTI, which was subcontracted for the work, Skinner told Newsweek. The responsible party in terms of adhering to the commission's rules is Red Mountain Operating. Skinner found no incidents or complaints dating back to 2012 for Red Mountain.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration will ultimately be the lead agency investigating the cause of the incident because the incident was a workplace accident, Skinner said. "Our primary role is environmental," he said. Evaluating for contaminants that could potentially damage drinking water is typically a top concern, but at this site, there are no creeks or drinking water that could be contaminated nearby, according to Skinner. Once the fire is out and the scene is secured, the commission will investigate chloride levels in the soil.

The fire continued to burn into midday, and firefighters let it continue in order to prevent hazardous materials from spreading. Crews were searching the woods to see if anyone had fled into the surrounding areas. After 4:00 p.m. Central time, the fire had been extinguished, the County Sheriff Morris told Newsweek. Once the site cools off entirely, crews will be able to search the well site for the five who still remain missing. Until then, there have been difficulties searching within some 100 feet of the well site, said Morris.

"It's going to be a long night," Morris said.

This article has been updated with additional information.