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The hazards of burgeoning LP gas business

Explosion of the liquid ammonia storage at the Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) factory at Anwara, Chittagong and its toxic impacts on human health and surrounding environment have drawn widespread attention.

The investigators are now busy in identifying the reasons for the accident and in finding out the people responsible for causing the mishap.

The DAP authorities have apparently failed to demonstrate their ability in accident management. The way the toxic ammonia-rich contaminated water has been allowed to flow freely to water bodies and the river Karnaphuli from the DAP premises shows total indifference of the concerned authorities towards environment protection and biodiversity conservation.

The installation of storage facilities of hazardous and flammable gas can be set up only after having license from the Department of Explosives. A media report suggests that 300 LP gas cylinders exploded at Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) storage facility at Bogra on August 20, 2016.

After the incident, the State Minister for the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources issued a directive for testing of all the LP Gas cylinders of the BPC (approximately 500,000). At least three persons died and 13 suffered injuries in the country this year due to LP gas cylinder explosions in different areas, according to media reports.

In May 2016, there was such an accident in Chittagong causing death of one person and injuries to a few others. This accident was a result of unauthorised decanting of LP gas from a big cylinder into a small one.

There are approximately two million LP gas cylinders in the country supplied by the BPC and eight private companies. The BPC supplies LP gas from its own production facilities (as a by-product of Eastern Refinery Ltd) and condensate fractionation plant at Kailashtila. The private companies import bulk LP gas and bottles and distribute those in the country.

Some other companies are said to be preparing to enter the LP Gas import and distribution business. The government targets encouraging LP gas business and attract private investment and operations in this sector with the target to bring in 70 per cent of local population under LPG coverage within the next 3-5 years.

This initiative has attracted various local and multinational business groups to LP gas business. The situation demands adequate legal and infrastructural capacity enhancement from the regulator`s part for safe LP gas business operation and for systematic professional monitoring of the handling, transportation, storage and distribution of the hazardous substances.

The import, storage, filling and transportation of LP gas are carried out under license obtained from the Department of Explosives, the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources.

These licenses are issued and renewed on the basis of certain terms and conditions under the LPG Rules 2004 of the Explosive Act, 1884. It is alleged that the safety of LP gas cylinders is monitored poorly and the Department of Explosives allows LP gas distribution and marketing in the local market on the basis of papers submitted by the relevant companies.

LP gas cylinders are not allegedly required to pass testing procedures to determine whether they are safe and comply with the regulatory requirements.

With the rapid urbanisation and income growth in the country, people use more and more LP gas in cylinders for domestic and commercial purposes. Some vehicles also use LP gas as fuel. As the piped gas supply for cooking is discouraged by the government due to shortage in the supply of natural gas, demands for LP gas has been steadily increasing in the country.

Such gas contains mainly highly flammable butane and propane gas and this is distributed in the portable cylinders in liquid form. The liquid propane and butane stored in the gas cylinders pass into kitchen stoves through valves and dispensing pipes.

Therefore, control valves of LP gas cylinders and the quality of the cylinders demand regular checking and testing for determining their suitability for safe use. At the same time, the handling of storage and transportation of LP cylinders demand careful and safe procedures.

Unfortunately, these standard requirements are often ignored and remain unchecked by the regulator despite huge risks associated with them. It is the responsibility of the licensing authorities (Department of Explosives) to monitor whether the licensees abide by the safety rules and regulations.

It is doubtful whether the Department of Explosives with its limited professional manpower and logistics support can ensure quality of LP gas cylinders and their accessories like valves and pipes and regular inspection of the activities of companies in LP gas business.

The activities of the Department of Explosives are diverse and include, among others, scrutiny and approval of site, construction plans for explosive manufacturing factories, explosive storage premises, storage installations for compressed gases in unfired pressure vessels, filling plants for gas cylinders, storage sheds for filled gas cylinders, petroleum storage installations, storage sheds and service stations (petrol, diesel and CNG pump stations) and calcium carbide storage premises.

Their duties also include scrutiny and approval of design and construction of explosives vans, vehicles for transport of compressed gases in pressure vessels and petroleum tank lorries and examination/testing of explosives/hazardous substances for classification of hazard.

The activities of the Department have increased with the development of the country. The use of explosives in the field of exploration and exploitation of natural reassures like oil, gas, coal and hard rock has increased significantly.

Extraction of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) from natural gas and liberal energy policy of the government encourage many national and multinational companies in establishing LPG storage and bottling plants at Mongla and Chittagong. With the introduction of CNG as vehicular fuel, the number of units licensed/approved by the Department has increased tremendously.

Under the changed circumstances, the government should create an independent authority for regulating and monitoring safe use of hazardous and flammable gases, including LP gas.

Dr. Mushfiqur Rahman, The author is a mining engineer and writes on energy and environment issues.

Source: The Financial Express

 

 

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