- Associated Press - Thursday, August 16, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - An explosion and fire at a southeastern Oklahoma natural gas well that killed five workers followed the removal of a pipe from the well but an ignition source still hasn’t been identified, federal investigators said Thursday.

Officials from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said they are conducting tests on the equipment involved - including a blowout preventer that failed to close - as they updated the status of the investigation into the Jan. 22 blast near Quinton, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Tulsa.

“This is a complex investigation,” said Dr. Kristen Kulinowski, interim director of the CSB. She said the board will work to identify improvements to prevent similar disasters and that it typically releases its findings 12-18 months after an accident occurs.

“This investigation is far from over,” Kulinowski said.

Killed in the explosion and fire were Matt Smith of McAlester, Oklahoma; Parker Waldridge of Crescent, Oklahoma; Roger Cunningham from Seminole, Oklahoma; Josh Ray of Fort Worth, Texas; and Cody Risk of Wellington, Colorado. Autopsies determined all five men died of burns and smoke inhalation.

The explosion was the deadliest drilling accident since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 people.

Kulinowski said the explosion and fire occurred shortly after workers removed drill pipe from the wellbore, a process known as “tripping.” The pipe was being detached to replace a worn-out drill bit, but investigators are still working to determine the cause of the blowout, she said.

Lead investigator Lauren Grim said officials are testing a blowout preventer on the rig that failed to close when two workers tried to activate it prior to the explosion. Natural gas and drilling mud ignited on the rig but investigators have not yet pinpointed an ignition sources.

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