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Fire out, no service impact from Oklahoma pipeline blast

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A natural gas pipeline fire in rural northwest Oklahoma was extinguished on Wednesday morning with no injuries reported, and the company that owns it, Northern Natural Gas, is working to determine the cause of the blast, a company spokesman said.

The fire occurred at 11 p.m. CST on Tuesday (0400 GMT Wednesday) in a remote and rural area in Oklahoma's panhandle, and could be seen up to 50 miles away, according to local media reports. No injuries were reported.

About "a half dozen" area volunteer fire departments responded to Tuesday night's blaze, said Mike Loeffler, spokesman for Northern Natural Gas.

The incident will not disrupt any service to the company's market area, he said. The affected section of the pipe was isolated and the remaining gas emptied from that portion of the line, he said.

"For safety reasons, we monitored the line last night and approached the pipeline this morning when it was under control," Loeffler said, adding that the investigation could take up to several weeks. "After all the information is gathered, we will start repairs, but there will be absolutely no disruption to service."

Property damage was limited to the pipeline itself. Northern Natural Gas instituted a gas management plan as soon as the fire occurred on Tuesday night to reroute natural gas to other pipelines, Loeffler said.

Northern Natural Gas pipeline in Harper County, Oklahoma, is a trunk pipeline that supplies gas to the company's market areas north of Kansas to states such as Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan, Loeffler said.

Harper County is about three hours northwest of Oklahoma City. The Harper County Sheriff's Department could not be reached for comment.

Although the cause is still being investigated, Loeffler said a typical cause of pipeline failure is third party damage, usually due to excavation near the pipeline by a company that failed to inquire in advance when it might hit a pipeline.

Northern Natural Gas utilizes an 8-1-1 number that companies and individuals must call before undergoing excavation in the area to avoid hitting existing pipelines.

Omaha, Nebraska-based Northern Natural Gas operates nearly 15,000 miles of natural gas pipelines in the United States, including interstate lines that runs from the Permian Basin in Texas to the Upper Midwest.

Northern Natural Gas is a unit of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Karen Brooks, Greg McCune and Andre Grenon)

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