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In August 2018, a 27-year-old man and his two-year-old son died while sleeping in their house in Mukuru slums in Nairobi after a gas cylinder exploded.

In early 2019, two separate incidents of gas explosions were reported. The first in 2019 occurred in Mlolongo in Machakos County and resulted in one fatality, while two other persons sustained injuries.

In the second incident, a gas cylinder exploded in lodging in Nairobi burning three people beyond recognition.

Data from the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) indicates that at least 12 accidents involving gas cylinder explosions have been recorded in the last 24 months, translating on average to one case every two months. These accidents have claimed eight lives.

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It is for this reason that three of Kenya’s largest insurance firms report that LPG-related incidents are now driving domestic insurance claims.

Domestic gas cylinder explosions have been attributed to the use of illegally refilled cylinders. Illegal LPG operations ignore critical standard operating procedures and greatly compromise the safety of consumers.

Faulty valves and cylinders have been the major cause of gas-related accidents. This calls for order in the gas market and heightened vigilance by gas users.

Heavy penalties

In 2009, the government passed into law the country’s first Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) regulations to promote the use of LPG at the domestic front as a ‘clean fuel’ to curb health and environmental hazards associated with use of traditional cooking fuels, such as biomass and kerosene.

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Subsequently, the Second Medium Term Plan (2013-2017) under the Vision 2030 framework recommended the revision of the Energy Bill 2012.

As a result, the Petroleum Act 2019 was assented to by President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 12, 2019. The Act came into effect on March 28 that year, and brought a raft of changes in the petroleum sector regulatory environment, providing heavy penalties and fines for malpractice.

In alignment with the provisions of the Act, the Petroleum Regulations 2019, or Legal Notice No 100 of 2019, were gazetted on June 25. They provided for a six-month transitional period to allow for the winding up of the mandatory cylinder exchange pool that made it compulsory for LPG cylinder marketing companies to accept competitor cylinders.

The new regulations allow for a mutual cylinder exchange system as opposed to the previous regime. This means that brand owners have the choice of allowing for the exchange of their gas cylinders with competitor brands, or opting out of the pool, thereby restricting cylinder exchanges for their respective brands.

Parties to such mutual LPG cylinder exchange agreements are required to consist of only licensed LPG cylinder brand owners trading in standard capacity cylinders (0.5kg, 1kg, 3kg, 6kg and 13kg) fitted with unified valves.

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Competitor brands

The use of unified valves ensures that consumers are not locked to a particular brand and can freely migrate to competitor brands without having to incur additional expenditure.

The regulations require that parties wishing to enter into such agreements obtain approvals from the Competition Authority of Kenya and EPRA. They have also taken into account the need to protect consumers who wish to return cylinders to brand owners. Such consumers are entitled to the full deposit on presenting a cylinder to the brand owner.

Other notable benefits include insurance against accidents, as well as tracking of cylinders to enhance traceability throughout the distribution chain.

Consumer safety is the hallmark of the regulations, especially getting rid of illegal refilling and illegal rebranding of cylinders. It is an offence punishable by law to refill, rebrand, deface or submit for maintenance a gas cylinder without prior written authority by the brand owner. Persons found in breach of this provision risk a fine of not less than Sh10 million.

The regulations have banned the distribution of gas cylinders that bear no brand names, further enhancing accountability and traceability throughout the supply chain.

The regulations also bestow the responsibility on brand owners of ensuring that consumers are informed on the safe handling and use of LPG through notices affixed onto the cylinder.

These regulations will enable Kenya to achieve higher LPG usage compared to countries like South Africa or Turkey. They have stringent regulations that prohibit illegal re-filling and ensure that every cylinder is insured and traceable, which has formed a foundation that has resulted in per capita consumption of 15kg in Turkey and 6kg in South Africa.

The LPG regulations of 2009 encouraged penetration and delivered a step-change in LPG consumption from 1kg per capita to the current 5.3kg per capita in Kenya.

The government now aims at achieving 15kg per capita, and the new regulations offer a silver lining in this endeavour since they will create market confidence for investors, enabling the greater penetration of LPG. However, this is only possible if all stakeholders work jointly towards this cause.

Mr Oimeke is the director general, Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA)

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