Danger looms as LPG dealers and regulator abet illegal cylinder refilling

The recent move by the Government to outlaw the gas cylinder pooling system by manufacturers will go a long way in restoring sanity.

The industry is prone to unethical practices including illegal refilling, rebranding and counterfeiting of gas cylinders. It is not lost on observers that the pooling system denied the brands an opportunity to monitor their cylinders as faceless refillers sold them with no regard to safety.

Thanks to the new law, LPG brands are now in a better position to guarantee safety of every cylinder they manufacture. This is because the brands, other than only swapping their cylinders for new ones through their own branded retail points, are now compelled to add safety instructions onto each cylinder. This includes guides on what to do if consumers suspect a gas leak.

The new law is part of Government’s strategy to position LPG as Kenya’s primary cooking fuel to tackle health and environmental hazards posed by cooking using firewood and charcoal.

However, its effective implementation will require strict adherence to the LPG global industry best practices. According to the Dublin-based World LPG Association, industry best practice is driven by the issue of ‘metal management’, a term describing the multi-functions of purchasing, supplying, maintaining and controlling cylinders and other containers used to store and transport LPG.

LPG is one of the few common consumer products sold in a metal or composite plastic container that is often more costly than the product it contains.

In the distribution system, many parties may physically handle the cylinder before it reaches the customer. Once the cylinder of LPG has been sold, the seller (who is frequently the cylinder owner) has no direct control over its subsequent use. This makes the importance of maintaining the cylinder or container integrity throughout the distribution chain an essential part of customer safety.

Once the cylinder leaves the direct control of the owner, there is no guarantee as to when or if the cylinder will be returned. Yet, the owner is exposed to the risk that misuse of the cylinder could result in injury to personnel, loss or damage to property and loss of customer business.

But the elimination of these bad practices within the market framework is a clear role between government and industry. Whereas the industry works to provide sustainable modern energy supply, government should be aware of, and work to rectify, some of the more egregious practices of unscrupulous operators including poorly designed and constructed LPG storage facilities.

Quality or quantity

Poorly designed plants and other facilities can result in unfair competition due to lower capital outlay by unscrupulous operators, and greater safety risk to employees, customers and the general public.

One of the more destructive practices is illegal filling (decanting) of cylinders by someone other than the cylinder owner. This dangerous practice can result in: no control over the condition of the cylinder and no control over the quality or quantity of the product in the cylinder. It can also lead to serious risk of damage or injury to those handling including the customer and inequitable and often unsustainable competition.

Sadly, in Kenya, both government and some energy dealers continue to abet this illegal practice. Although the dealers are expected to comply with the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) safety regulations, illegally refilled gas cylinders still find their way to Kenyan homes.

The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) keeps looking the other way as illegal refilling continues unabated.

-The writer is a communications consultant who keenly follows the hydrocarbons sector.