A ruptured gas pipeline exploded as villagers collected fuel in southwestern Nigeria Friday, killing up to 200 people and leaving charred bodies scattered around the blast site.

Rescue workers dug a ditch near the blast site in Ilado, a village about 25 miles east of Nigeria's main city of Lagos. Lagos Police Commissioner Emmanuel Adebayo said the victims would be buried in a common grave.

"Between 150 and 200 people died," Adebayo told reporters. Dozens of burned corpses were lying on the ground and plumes of black smoke rose into the air.

Firefighters were on the scene and the Red Cross said it had workers helping survivors. Red Cross spokeswoman Okon Umoh said many of the bodies had fallen into the water.

The blast occurred after the pipeline ruptured and villagers flocked to the conduit to scoop up fuel that was gushing out.

Countrywatch:Nigeria

Nigeria is Africa's leading oil producer, the world's seventh-biggest exporter and fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.

But most of its population remains impoverished and people often tap into pipelines crossing their lands, seeking fuel for cooking or resale on the black market. The highly volatile petroleum can ignite, incinerating those collecting it.

In September 2004, an oil pipeline exploded near Lagos as thieves tried to siphon oil from it, with up to 50 people perishing in the flames. A 1998 pipeline blast killed more than 1,000 people in southern Nigeria.

Most of Nigeria's oil is pumped to the east in the southern Niger Delta region, far from the Ilado. But pipes carry the crude to refineries across the vast nation.

In other developments, three foreign oil workers who had been abducted in the oil hub of Port Harcourt were released, a day after they were snatched from a bus as they headed to work, regional police commander Samuel Adetuyi said.

It was the second attack this week on foreigners in Port Harcourt, where many oil-services companies keep their main Nigerian operations.

An unidentified gunman riding a motorcycle Wednesday shot and killed an American riding in a car to work at the offices of the U.S. drilling equipment maker Baker Hughes Inc.

The pipeline explosion tempered a drop in crude oil futures as the International Energy Agency sharply cut its forecasts for world oil demand.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery fell 47 cents to $72.85 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by afternoon in Europe. June Brent crude on the ICE Futures exchange lost 47 cents to $72.96 a barrel. Earlier in the day, the Nymex contract fell as low as $72.40.