Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder safety situation is not very good in Pakistan. Every year, there are many cylinder explosions, leading to deaths and injuries. Explosions occur usually during transport and users’ locations.
There are two main reasons for cylinder explosions – low quality manufacturing using inappropriate material; and damage and wear and tear during handling over a period of time.
Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) does try to control the menace of unauthorised manufacturing by issuing licences to LPG cylinder manufacturing companies after thorough checking and control over quality assurance procedures. But low quality manufacturing by unauthorised manufacturers goes on.
We will in this space discuss as to what else can be done over and above existing controls and practices to improve safety issues in this respect.
There are, reportedly, 10 to 12 LPG cylinder manufacturers who carry Ogra licence. As opposed to this, there are scores of illegal unlicensed manufacturers.
These manufacturers thrive on low prices and low quality material. They also economise on the thickness of steel. The question, however, is how do supplies from illegal manufacturers find their way to the market.
LPG filling and marketing companies receive licence from Ogra. Do they buy these supplies and how to know about it if they do?
There are third-party wholesalers also, which may or may not be registered. Most probably, they introduce the illegally manufactured cylinders in market. Retailers may also be buying cylinders from open market, which may be carrying these illegally manufactured cylinders. So, what to do?
First is increasing the rigour in control of operations and practices of LPG filling and marketing companies for preventing the influx of illegal cylinders. It goes without saying that illegal manufacturers should be identified and legal process be applied to them.
Ogra has specified once in five years testing of cylinders which should be able to identify defective cylinders. Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan (HDIP) has been entrusted to test and certify compressed natural gas (CNG) cylinders with satisfactory results. Same can be done by HDIP for the LPG cylinders.
However, CNG cylinders cannot be manufactured by the unorganised sector as it involves heavy hick metal work, while LPG cylinders can be manufactured by the unorganised sector and control over the latter is not easy.
Nevertheless, collaboration between Ogra and HDIP is desirable to control the illegal manufacturing of unsafe LPG cylinders.
There is a new technology of track and trace system, which is being applied to track and trace cylinders. More expensive solutions even identify the location of cylinders.
This is being applied in industrialised countries. Even in our region, in India, some LPG companies have started using it. The cheapest solution is RFID-based, which is nothing but a normal barcode or QR code printed on a label.
That label is pasted on the collar of cylinder appropriately. RFID can be scanned and data logged on a cloud system. This would reveal all data about that cylinder such as the name of manufacturer, date, testing, approval, ownership of cylinder, etc.
Perhaps in this way, one can find out or have some control to identify illegal cylinders. Obviously, data on all cylinders have to be first fed into the system, which may be time consuming.
One can start with new incoming cylinders. LPG filling and marketing companies may be required to install the system.
Through a computerised system, it may be possible to control and audit practices of LPG filling and marketing companies. RFID is well known in the country and can be easily introduced.
Other system is more expensive. It contains a hardware piece that contains GPS, which indicates the current location or even the history of locations. It contains all other data that is kept by the RFID system. Both systems are accompanied by a cloud-based management software system.
As they say, garbage in and garbage out. Some effort and system has to be applied by the regulator through surprise checks and audits.
Better LPG marketing companies may voluntarily adopt the system while other low-class companies may not. Ogra or third-party inspectors may be employed for doing random checks.
LPG cylinders are safety items. Human life is in danger due to illegal cylinder making without paying any attention to quality and safety. Those who can, have stopped keeping LPG cylinders in kitchens and prefer to place these outside and connect it through a long flexible pipe.
Ogra should take the matter seriously and correct the situation. LPG marketing companies should not be faceless. Their name should be printed on cylinders they are filling.
They should be made responsible for checking the credentials and condition of cylinders. Track and trace system may be considered and studied for early implementation. Otherwise manual monitoring processes should be strengthened. Free for all in the LPG safety regime must go.
The writer is former member energy Planning Commission and author of several books on the energy sector
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2024.
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