Cook­ing gas op­er­a­tions re­quire firm hands

The Punch - - EDITORIAL -

JUST when it seemed as if dis­as­ters were eas­ing off, a man-made calamity erupted. Four days into the New Year, a gas explosion in Kaduna State incin­er­ated eight peo­ple, in­clud­ing an aca­demic. The tragedy oc­curred at a re­tail out­let in Sabon Tasha, Kaduna me­trop­o­lis, which was dis­charg­ing cook­ing gas from a big­ger cylin­der to a smaller one. In re­sponse, the Kaduna State Govern­ment, the Depart­ment of Petroleum Re­sources and other lay­ers of author­ity swiftly sig­ni­fied their in­ten­tion to re­view the op­er­a­tions of gas ven­dors.

Ex­clud­ing the re­tailer, the other vic­tims were per­haps cir­cum­stan­tial vic­tims. The mid­day blast was un­der­pinned by the lax­ity of reg­u­la­tion in the coun­try. Iron­i­cally, Si­mon Mal­lam, a pro­fes­sor of physics, who was also the Chair­man/ceo of the Abuja-based Nige­ria Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion, had in­no­cently gone to a bar­ber’s be­fore the explosion en­snared him. Mal­lam, who had just re­turned to the coun­try af­ter an of­fi­cial tour of the United States, re­port­edly went to the bar­ber’s shop with his grand­son. For a coun­try that is short-handed of spe­cial­ists to drive its nu­clear en­ergy am­bi­tions, los­ing Mal­lam in this care­less man­ner is a mas­sive blow.

Apart from him, the po­lice stated that the con­fla­gra­tion also con­sumed Wale Ajayi, Vic­tor Asoegwu, and Michael Ernest. The death toll in­creased by three at the week­end, as DPR of­fi­cials dis­cov­ered more corpses while con­duct­ing fur­ther anal­y­sis at the blast site. Four oth­ers were in­jured. The fire gut­ted prop­erty worth N16.40 mil­lion in four shops, per­haps be­cause the reg­u­la­tors failed to sani­tise the op­er­a­tions of com­bustible items.

Un­for­tu­nately, avoid­able tragedies fea­ture promi­nently in Nige­rian life. They are be­ing ex­pressed in road ac­ci­dents, boats cap­siz­ing, sale of poi­sonous foods and gen­er­a­tor fume wip­ing out whole fam­i­lies. In this case, ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­der­taken by the KDSG in­di­cated that the re­tailer was not qual­i­fied to vend gas, hav­ing not been prop­erly reg­is­tered by the DPR. In vir­tu­ally all Nige­rian towns, hun­dreds of un­li­censed gas re­tail­ers abound, and this case gained at­ten­tion be­cause of the calamity.

Even now, many of th­ese il­le­gal gas re­tail­ers are still do­ing brisk busi­ness with­out mind­ing the dan­ger they pose to the well­be­ing of so­ci­ety. They are tak­ing ad­van­tage of govern­ment’s cam­paign to boost the use of gas for cook­ing, which is cleaner than the fire­wood, or kerosene stoves. In turn, this will re­duce de­for­esta­tion. How­ever, the pol­icy fo­cuses mainly on gas us­age. Govern­ment, through the DPR and the Stan­dards Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Nige­ria, ought to have matched the pro­lif­er­a­tion with the en­force­ment of the ap­pro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tory frame­work.

Although the DPR is the ma­jor player here, reg­u­la­tory loop­hole is mainly re­spon­si­ble for the ghastly in­ci­dents be­ing recorded in the sub­sec­tor. In quick suc­ces­sion, La­gos, the coun­try’s com­mer­cial hub, wit­nessed two sep­a­rate in­ci­dents in 2018. First, a leak at a gas plant in the Magodo area of the state con­sumed two lives in Jan­uary. In ad­di­tion, three gas reser­voir tanks, a truck laden with gas, a build­ing and other equip­ment were en­gulfed. A few hours later, an­other in­ci­dent in Bada­gry re­sulted in five deaths and eight peo­ple be­ing in­jured.

When the out­rage that greeted the dis­as­ters dis­si­pated, things con­tin­ued ab­nor­mally. Th­ese days, gas re­tail out­lets are still no­tice­ably op­er­at­ing at petrol sta­tions. This is dou­bly dan­ger­ous. In Novem­ber 2017 in Ow­erri, Imo State, four peo­ple lost their lives af­ter a gas out­let ex­ploded on a petrol sta­tion premises. Or­di­nar­ily, this ought to have trig­gered a de­tailed re­view on th­ese two sen­si­tive op­er­a­tions. To the ex­tent that in Septem­ber 2019, the Nige­rian As­so­ci­a­tion of Liq­ue­fied Petroleum Gas Mar­keters warned the govern­ment about the dan­gers of sit­u­at­ing gas plants on the premises of petrol sta­tions, things have not changed.

Apart from the explosion in the num­ber of il­le­gal gas re­tail out­lets, there is also much ap­pre­hen­sion about the na­ture of equip­ment be­ing used. In this, fake, sub­stan­dard or out­right ex­pired valves and gas cylin­ders are in cir­cu­la­tion. Pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Kaduna dis­as­ter in­di­cated that the fatal explosion was ig­nited by a faulty cylin­der. For years, SON has bat­tled to mit­i­gate this. Last Au­gust, it seized a 40-foot con­tainer laden with sub­stan­dard gas cylin­ders. The dan­ger­ous cargo was val­ued at over N38 mil­lion. Sec­ond, in De­cem­ber, it de­scended on a ware­house in La­gos, where it im­pounded an­other set of de­fec­tive gas cylin­ders. The 5,000 cylin­ders were worth N51.3 mil­lion, SON said as it de­stroyed them. A few days af­ter the Kaduna fa­tal­i­ties, the DPR sealed 15 LPG skid plants in Osun State dur­ing rou­tine sur­veil­lance. This demon­strates a re­newed sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

In fair­ness, af­ter ev­ery pub­lic show of seizure/de­struc­tion of this haz­ardous equip­ment, SON usu­ally en­light­ens the pub­lic about the in­her­ent dan­gers as­so­ci­ated with gas cylin­ders. One of them is those who use 12.5 kilo­gramme cylin­ders and above as camp­ing gas. “Hav­ing a cook­ing pot on top of the cylin­der as high as 12.5kg stands the risk of tilt­ing over,” SON warned. “It is also highly dan­ger­ous to sub­ject the high vol­ume of LPG in a high-vol­ume ca­pac­ity cylin­der to heat from the cooker that is di­rectly on top of the cylin­der.” To fore­stall dis­as­ter, it rec­om­mended the use of only 3kg, 5kg and 6.25kg as camp­ing gas.

Proac­tively, SON and DPR ought to set new stan­dards in en­force­ment, pros­e­cut­ing il­le­gal re­tail out­let op­er­a­tors that are caus­ing fa­tal­i­ties. The reg­u­la­tors should deepen their pub­lic en­light­en­ment, par­tic­u­larly about the 15-year ex­pi­ra­tion rule of cylin­ders, which must also un­dergo re­qual­i­fi­ca­tion thrice within this time frame.

With the right poli­cies laced with in­cen­tives for poor house­holds, and solid en­force­ment, In­dia mul­ti­plied its LPG house­hold cov­er­age from 56.2 per cent to 89 per cent be­tween 2014 and 2018, govern­ment said. There­fore, SON, DPR and state en­vi­ron­men­tal au­thor­i­ties should not re­lent in firm en­force­ment. They should can­cel the op­er­at­ing li­cences of petrol sta­tions that are co-lo­cat­ing with skid plants within the win­dow stip­u­lated by the DPR.

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