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5 still missing, 1 injured after drilling rig explosion, fire in eastern Oklahoma

QUINTON, Okla. - State and county emergency management officials said a natural gas well fire in eastern Oklahoma was out and secure after an explosion injured one and left five workers unaccounted for Monday.

The explosion happened at a well site four miles southwest of Quinton, in Pittsburg County, shortly before 9:00 a.m.  Authorities say there were 22 workers on the well site, which was being drilled by Houston-based Patterson-UTI Energy.

A total of 17 workers were able to escape the explosion and ensuing fire. One person -- who initially refused treatment at the scene -- was later flown by helicopter to a Tulsa hospital with burn injuries. However five others were still missing Monday evening.

"We have searched the surrounding area and have not found anybody at this time," said Kevin Enloe, the emergency management director for Pittsburg County. "We’re not going to release the names at this time."

"The drilling company and the other companies that were on location, or had employees and staff on location, they are handling that and reaching out to those employees families," he said.

Monday evening Patterson-UTI confirmed three of its employees were among the missing.

"We’ve reached out to their families and are providing support during this difficult time," said Patterson-UTI Energy President & CEO Andy Hendricks in a statement.  “At this moment, no one knows with certainty what happened and it would be unwise to speculate. Well control experts and emergency responders are on site and we will conduct a thorough investigation when the incident is fully contained. We will provide updates as more facts are known."

The explosion, and ensuing fire, burned for several hours -- and sparked grass fires which fire fighters worked to contain -- as specialty oilfield fire crews were called in to figure out how to extinguish the burning well head.

"There will definitely be operations continuing throughout the night and throughout the day tomorrow," said Enloe. "Most of those are going to be handled from the drilling company."

Calls and messages to the well operator, Oklahoma City-based Red Mountain Energy, went unreturned.

Crisis teams called in

"The (Oklahoma Highway Patrol) has brought in their critical incident debriefing team to help with that effort," said OHP Capt. Troy German. "The men’s baptist relief has brought in some people to assist us, along with Carl Albert Hospital, has brought in some people in to help assist."

Patterson-UTI said it had reached out to workers families and are providing support. Crisis teams and counselors will also be available for others, including first responders.

A total of ten fire departments, Pittsburg County Sheriff and Emergency Management, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol were dispatched to the scene.

Cause unclear

Officials said Monday afternoon that the cause of the explosion is unknown. A spokesperson with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission said the agency has been in contact with the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the EPA.

"Our role is, for the most part, environmental. In terms of the investigation into anything that is pinpointed as a cause of a workplace accident that's (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration)," said Matt Skinner.

OSHA was unable to be reached because of the government shut down. A DEQ spokesperson told News 4 Monday that public water sources did not appear to be impacted by the explosion and ensuing well fire.

"There’s no need for an evacuation," said Enloe during one of two press conferences held Monday afternoon, as the well fire continued to burn. "There’s fumes burning, but for the most part, everything that’s burning is being burned off, so the threat would be very low."

Fire crews are being kept on standby, as a precaution. An update is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.