The safety situation of LPG cylinders is not very good in Pakistan. Every year there are many cylinder explosions that lead to deaths and injuries. Explosions usually occur during transport and user locations.
There are two main reasons for cylinder blasts – poor quality construction using inappropriate material. and damage and wear and tear during handling over a period of time.
The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) is trying to control the menace of unauthorized manufacturing by issuing licenses to LPG cylinder manufacturing companies after thorough inspection and quality assurance procedures. But low-quality production by unauthorized manufacturers continues.
In this space we will discuss what else can be done beyond existing controls and practices to improve security issues in this regard.
There are reportedly 10 to 12 LPG cylinder manufacturers that have an Ogra license. In contrast to this, there are dozens of illegal unlicensed manufacturers.
These manufacturers thrive on low prices and low quality materials. They also save on the thickness of the steel. The question, however, is how supplies from illegal manufacturers find their way into the market.
LPG filling and trading companies are licensed by Ogra. Do they buy these supplies and how do they know if they do?
There are also third party wholesalers, who may or may not be registered. They probably market the illegally manufactured cylinders. Retailers may also buy bottles from the open market, which may carry these illegally manufactured cylinders. So what should we do?
First is increasing the rigor in controlling the operations and practices of gas filling and trading companies to prevent the influx of illegal cylinders. It goes without saying that the illegal manufacturers should be identified and the legal process applied to them.
Ogra has set up a once every five year roll test which should be able to detect faulty rolls. The Hydrocarbons Development Institute of Pakistan (HDIP) has been commissioned to test and certify Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) cylinders with satisfactory results. HDIP can do the same for LPG cylinders.
Reading: Traffic ban on LPG carriers
However, CNG cylinders cannot be manufactured by the unorganized sector as it involves heavy metal work, while LPG cylinders can be manufactured by the unorganized sector and control over the latter is not easy.
However, collaboration between Ogra and HDIP is desirable to check the illegal manufacture of unsafe LPG cylinders.
There is a new track and trace system technology, which is applied to track and trace rollers. The more expensive solutions even determine the position of the rollers.
This applies to industrialized countries. Even in our region, in India, some gas companies have started using it. The cheapest solution is based on RFID, which is nothing more than a regular barcode or QR code printed on a label.
This label is affixed to the cylinder collar appropriately. RFID can be scanned and data recorded in a cloud system. This would reveal all the data about that cylinder, such as the manufacturer’s name, date, test, approval, ownership of the cylinder, etc.
Maybe in this way, someone can discover or have some control to detect illegal cylinders. Obviously, the data for all cylinders must be fed into the system first, which can be time-consuming.
One can start with new incoming cylinders. Gas filling and marketing companies may be required to install the system.
Through a computerized system, it may be possible to audit and audit the practices of gas filling and trading companies. RFID is well known in the country and can be easily introduced.
The other system is more expensive. It contains a piece of hardware that contains GPS, which indicates your current location or even a history of locations. Contains all other data maintained by the RFID system. Both systems come with a cloud-based management software system.
As they say, garbage in and garbage out. Some effort and system should be implemented by the regulator through surprise checks and audits.
Better gas marketing companies may voluntarily adopt the system while other low-end companies do not. Ogra or third party inspectors may be used to perform random inspections.
Gas cylinders are safety items. Human life is at risk due to the illegal manufacture of cylinders without any regard for quality and safety. Those who can have stopped keeping LPG cylinders in kitchens and prefer to place them outside and connect them via a long hose.
Ogra should take the matter seriously and rectify the situation. Gas trading companies should not be faceless. Their name must be printed on the cylinders being filled.
They should be responsible for checking the credentials and status of the cylinders. The monitoring and detection system can be considered and studied for early implementation. Otherwise, manual monitoring procedures should be strengthened. Free for all in the gas safety regime must go.
The author is a former member of the Energy Planning Commission and the author of several books on the energy sector
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12u2024.
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