By Adewale Sanyaolu
The rising incidents of gas explosions across the country have become a source of major concern to citizens who daily wake up to this occurrences that have caused catalogue of deaths.
Between January till date, about eight cases of fire occasioned by petrol and gas tanker explosions have been reported in different parts of Lagos.
The development has left many motorists either commuting to or from work in a state of fear as the incessant cases of tanker explosions can best be described as a timed bomb that no one knows when it will happen.
At a time that Nigerians and businesses are gradually recovering from the impact of COVID-19, the rampant cases of tanker explosions have further dealt a debilitating blow on the socio-economic wellbeing of those that are affected.
A larger number of those usually affected by the unfortunate incidents are left at their mercies because a larger chunk of business operating in the Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) category often do not embrace fire insurance policy.
More worrisome is the recent disclosure by the Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Dr. Idris Salako, that only 17 gas filing stations had planning permit in Lagos, vowing that all illegally built outlets as well as those operating in densely populated residential areas would be sealed off to avert further mishaps.
He said that to address the rising incidence of gas explosions and its attendant consequences; the Lagos State government has banned the siting of gas and fuel stations in densely populated areas.
This was even as it announced plans to clamp down on all illegal Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), popularly called cooking gas facilities across the state.
DPR requirements for setting up an LPG plant, which are not often adhered to by operators, include; three copies of the approved drawings showing the existing or proposed buildings on the site and the relevant distances to the roadways and adjoining property, if any.
Three copies of Piping and Instrumentation Diagram (P&ID) of the gas filling plant and manufacturers’ data sheet of the storage tanks with codes and standards adopted in the design.
It also includes; a provisional approval letter and fire report by Chief Federal/State Fire officer or an officer authorized by him on his behalf, that he is satisfied with the proposed arrangement for the prevention of fire.
Other requirements are: a letter from the appropriate Town Planning Authority authorising the siting of the LPG filling plant at the proposed site. The Town Planning approval stamps on all design drawings.
Three copies of Memorandum and Articles of Association of the company and evidence that the company is duly incorporated by the Federal Ministry of Trade to deal in petroleum products. Tax clearance certificate for the preceding three years of application or tax exemption certificate
Besides the usual cases of tanker explosion, one major cause of explosion is the increased number of sub-standard and expired gas cylinders in circulation.
To stem the tide and as part of efforts to stem the rising wave of gas explosions and in line with its mandate to ensure the safety of lives and property across the country, the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) in 2019 disclosed that it has opened collaborative talks with gas plant owners and other relevant stakeholders in order to commence the re-qualification of used gas cylinders.
However, the agency stated that the exercise would appear daunting given individual ownership of liquefied petroleum gas cylinder in the country.
The agency had then said more than 5,000 substandard gas cylinders worth N51.3 million have been publicly destroyed by SON.
According to the standards body, the cylinders destroyed were imported into the country without the SON’s Conformity Assessment Programme certification and did not comply with specifications in line with the Nigerian Industrial Standards (NIS) 69.
The Director, Inspectorate and Compliance Directorate, SON, Engr. Obiora Manafa, at the destruction exercise at one of its warehouses in Lagos said the unscrupulous importer brought in 12.5kg cylinders not meant for camping gas, pointing out that the maximum capacity of cylinders required for camping gas are 3.5kg, 5kg, and 6.25kg.
On their parts, stakeholders in the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) value chain popularly called cooking gas have called for the stiff regulation of industrial gas (acetylene) sector in order to prevent the continuous loss of lives and property.
Investigations by Sunday Sun revealed that the regulation of Industrial gas (acetylene) rests on the Standards Organisation of Nigeria(SON), an agency under the Ministry of Trade and Investment and such was outside the purview of the Department of Petroleum Resources(DPR) which is only mandated by law to regulate activities involving LPG, Compressed Natural Gas(CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas(LNG).
The stakeholders under the aegis of the Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers Association ( NALPGAM) and the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Retailers(LPGAR) branch of NUPENG in separate interviews with Sunday Sun said the unregulated activities of those engaged in the sale, use and distribution of oxygen gas pose a major threat to the socio-economic wellbeing of Nigerians.
They urged the entity responsible for the regulation of industrial gas to take a cue from DPR which regularly organizes sensitization workshops for those in the LPG value chain, especially as it relates to the safe handing, use, sale and distribution of LPG.
They spoke against the backdrop of the five gas explosions which rocked Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State, in May this year, killing people and destroying several property worth millions of naira within one week.
Executive Secretary of NALPGAM, Mr. Bassey Essien, and the Chairman of LPGAR, Mr. Chika Umudu, said that preliminary investigations revealed that the explosions were as a result of industrial gas and not LPG as erroneously published by some media houses.
According to the duo of Bassey and Umundu, industrial gases are not sold in cooking gas or skid plants where consumers refill their cylinders or bottle the same.
The LPGAR Lagos Chairman explained that his association was not responsible for sale and distribution of industrial gas, adding that in 2020 LPGAR ordered its members who are also selling industrial gas to desist from using the same shop or location for both LPG and industrial gas.
‘‘In fact, the union ordered them not to site the location of industrial gas outlets anywhere close to 500 meters from where LPG is stored or sold,’’
NALPGAM said that it was doing a lot of awareness campaigns on the safe use of cooking gas, handling of cooking gas accessories, know how to handle the gas cylinder, turning on the gas cylinder when about to be used, or after usage, appropriate storage places, how to detect expired cylinders, hoses and replacement of regulators as well as emergency response measures in the event of gas leakages particular at homes.
On the recent gas explosion which occurred opposite OPIC Shopping Plaza in Ikeja, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the oil and gas industry regulatory says it has no records of the tanker or the depot where it loaded from.
Speaking exclusively to Sunday Sun on telephone, the Zonal Operations Controller of DPR, Mr. Ayorinde Cardoso, said thst preliminary investigation by the agency revealed that there was a leak from an LPG tanker which was ignited by exposed fire from the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant or possibly elsewhere
He explained that no truck can leave any terminal or depot without being certified to ensure that all safety apparatuses, including the safety valves are in order.
Cardoso explained that DPR on getting to the scene of the incident discovered that the truck had already been towed by Lagos State Emergency Management Agency(LASEMA), thus making it difficult for the Department to ascertain further details regarding the truck, driver, owner and the depot where it loaded.
He added that there are several speculations surrounding the identity of the truck, including the depot it loaded from, adding that DPR does not work with speculations, but facts, while assuring a full investigation will be launched to determine all the facts that led to the incident.
But the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Safety Experts, a firm involved in the fire safety training, audit and consultancy, Mrs. Debbie Windele, said that the fire was an avoidable one because a communiqué issued at the end of the 2nd Lagos Fire Safety Conference held in conjunction with the Lagos State Safety Commission in 2019 proffered solutions to wide ranging issues around fire safety.
She said thst it remained regrettable that almost two years after the conference; none of the recommendations contained in the communiqué which was submitted to the Lagos State government had been implemented.
On regulation and enforcement by DPR, Windele said that there is total systematic failure across board, adding that most of these incidents happen outside the depot where the risk is high.
‘‘Are the drivers adequately trained in handling highly flammable and volatile substance? On my way to the office every day, I look at the ones selling cooking gas next door to a battery charger. Who are the people approving such shops? There is total failure from top to bottom. Things must change for better’’.
On his part, Essien said that these occurrences are rather sad and particularly with gas explosions, and the attention they generate.
‘‘ Nobody is happy about any incident, especially when it involves fatalities and loss of property, it brings great concerns. It is equally heart breaking when the government and stakeholders are doing so much to ensure we harness these natural resources which we have in abundance in Nigeria and the benefits associated with the usage of LPG as a preferred cooking energy as well as the application of LPG in the country’s industrialization potentials and these incidents occur and negatively taking back the hand of the clock on progress recorded so far.
He disclosed that while awaiting a full and detailed investigation from the regulatory agency and Lagos Safety Commission, just like we have always advocated, safety precautions, applications must be inculcated in every facet of our lives.
He advised that vehicles and trucks on the roads must be on top healthy state, maintenance must not be a manageable affair, saying if a truck has a fault, rather than manage it, the driver should stop and examine the problem and if it’s beyond his immediate sphere of expertise to control the situation, he should raise an alarm, call emergency numbers available for help.
‘‘ If the truck has been arrested or accosted on the road when the leakage was noticed, perhaps help could have come its way. However, a detailed investigation will help to unravel where the leakage came from in the truck and how it could have avoided.’’