How LPG regulation lapses trigger incessant explosions
… Illegal filling plants increasing at alarming rate
The reoccurring phenomenum of gas explosions across the country has once again triggered concerns about the level of efforts put in place by the regulatory agencies to monitor and enforce strict compliant with rules and standards of operating in the industry, particularly the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) sub sector.
The recent gas explosion in Nnewi, Anambra State, killing scores of people on the Christmas eve has once again brought the issue of safety to the front burner, as stakeholders lament frequent breaches of safety rules by LPG filling plant operators.
This apparently has become more worrisome with the influx of illegal gas filling plants located in unlicensed corridors, shops and open spaces close to residential areas, and thereby posing threat to safety of innocent residents.
The Guardian survey revealed that such illegal plants are highly located around, Ijegun, Sango, Ota, Ayobo, Abule Egba, Ijoko, and Ikorodu axis, among others.
Efforts to halt the wide spread of the illegal plants by the operators were dampened with the poor regulation mechanism of the industry regulator-the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), and the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) in some cases.
The President, Nigeria Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (NLPGA), Dayo Adesina, told the Guardian that issues of regulation and compliance with safety standards are critical to operators in the business.
Describing the Nnewi disaster as ‘unfortunate’, he said the association could not say anything on it for now, until the DPR concludes its investigation and reveals the cause of the incident.
According to him, there are guidelines set by DPR, which every operator has to comply with.
“Those things have to be followed strictly and you need to have a standby safety officer. It is a very stringent process that people have to follow when you are setting up a filling plant,” he said.
Adesina enjoined the DPR to strictly monitor the plants and help sanitise the sector. “More importantly DPR needs to enforce the rules, and clamp down on any operator that fails to comply with the standards,” he said.
Worried about the situation, he said: “We are going to have a stakeholders’ forum very soon and intimate the operators that safety is very key because of the volatile nature of gas,”
Another operator, Ugochukwu Usoh, alleged that the monitoring exercise by the regulatory agencies is low, hence giving the players liberty to operate at free will, which is risky for consumers.
“For example, many illegal gas plants are now springing up in various locations across the country, but the agencies are nowhere to be found to curtail such practices and these are dangerous to people living close to such facilities,”
The DPR’s gas sector role is to regulate gas activities; conserve Nigeria’s hydrocarbon resources; optimize government take in gas activities; ensure compliance with Health Safety & Environment (HSE) Standards; administer gas acreages and concessions and implement government policies on gas matters.
A top official of the Department told The Guardian that the DPR was up and doing as regards monitoring, and it visit the plants ‘as frequent as possible’, (although, it has no schedule of visit plan).
In accordance with part IV section 87 sub-section (2) of the Petroleum Regulation of 1967, no Petroleum Gas Plant or Installation shall be constructed or modified without approval granted by the Director of Petroleum Resources. Contravening such regulation constitutes an offence and is subject to a fine or imprisonment or both.
The DPR LPG regulation is such a voluminous document that only few could be featured in this report, while issues of implementation and monitoring remain a concern.
The plant construction procedure in the regulation stipulates that: LPG must be stored under pressure in vessels designed to withstand safely the vapor pressure at the maximum temperature.
Construction of such vessels must be to an acceptable design code such as; The Nigerian Standards Organization approved standard on pressure Vessels and Liquefied Petroleum Gas containers N1 S220/85; The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) boiler and pressure for use in the chemical, petroleum and allied construction, test and certification; The American Petroleum Institute standard 2510(2); The British Standards (BS) 1500 PART 1, fusion welded pressure vessels for use in the chemical, petroleum and allied Industries pr BS15500 for new vessels design, construction, test and certification; The installation/construction of piping, instruments and the plant must be carried out by an accredited DPR Company.
Also, it stipulated that, the materials used for the construction of the filling shed must be non- inflammable material; and the filling shed must be open-sided for good ventilation.
Procedures for licensing new plant requires certification from Weight and Measures Division Federal Ministry of Commerce that the measuring equipment installed at the plant are calibrated satisfactorily; Certification from Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) that the gas tank meets specifications and is safe for the proposed purpose; final fire safety certification issued by federal or state fire department; mechanical leak tester; gas detector; and warning notices and personnel protective wears for the plant operators among others.
Location and spacing for high-pressure storage provides that one quarter of the sum of the diameters of the two adjacent tanks should be the space between LPG high-pressure storage tanks, while it should be 15 metres away from building containing flammable materials e.g. filling shed, storage building.
Fire extinguisher in sufficient quantity should be provided at strategic places within the premises and the plant personnel should have easy access to the extinguisher.
Section four of the regulation focused on fire protection, water reservoir and security issues, stating that; the possibility of a major fire outbreak, leading to direct flame impingement on the storage vessel, can be minimized by sound engineering, plant design and layout.
Of similar importance are good operating practices and the proper instruction and training of personnel on both routine operations and on action to be taken in emergency.
At least two dry powder extinguishers less than 9kg each and suitable for LPG fires with a test fire rating of at least 21A and 183B as defined in MSA EN 3-7:2004 should be readily available at strategic locations to deal with fires adjacent to the meter/vehicle being filled; Stations storing LPG for Autogas should have a clean water reservoir of minimum size 108 m3.