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Associated Press, Published July 26 2011

Three injured in oil well explosion in western North Dakota

BISMARCK – Natural gas ignited during drilling operations at an oil well in western North Dakota, starting a fire that severely burned two men, injured another and will likely burn for at least a week before it’s brought under control, the state’s top oil regulator said Monday.

Lynn Helms, the director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, said the fire started Sunday at the site near Beach. The drill rig toppled during the blaze, and oil, gas and debris were still burning Monday, he said.

“They had just finished their drilling operation and it caught fire,” Helms said.

Like many oil-producing states, North Dakota has no specialized equipment to battle oil well fires. Because of the costs involved, the state – despite its booming Oil Patch – doesn’t require it, and thus the companies are unwilling to invest in expensive equipment. Helms has said state officials were going to discuss the issue, but no talks have yet been held.

Helms said the cause of the fire is under investigation, and it doesn’t appear that it will extinguish on its own. Well fire specialists from Houston-based Wild Well Control Inc. traveled from Texas and were slated to be on the scene Monday, Helms said.

“This may take most if not all of this week to put out,” he said.

The two critically injured men were flown to a burn center in the Minneapolis area, Helms said. A third man suffered minor injuries.

Cyclone Drilling Inc., which is based in Gillette, Wyo., confirmed that it owns the rig but had no details about the blaze or the men’s injuries, spokeswoman Brittani Piesik said.

The blaze is at least the third oil field fire in North Dakota this year, after two in March. Helms had said in March that the state’s Industrial Commission was slated to discuss the issue of having specialized well fire equipment on hand. The panel includes Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.