Swoop on gas refilling plant as Kenyans raise safety concerns

ODM leader Raila Odinga accompanied by Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna and Embakasi East MP Babu Owino addresses victims of Mradi gas explosion at Embakasi Social hall on February 06, 2024. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

A multi-agency team on Monday evening raided an illegal gas refilling and storage facility at Milimani Estate in Kitale town, Trans Nzoia County.

The team led by Kiminini Deputy County Commissioner Dolphina Okondo and OCPD John Onditi, acting on a tip-off from members of Nyumba Kumi, stormed the residential home, which has been turned into a gas business point.

The team waited for hours before accessing the well-fenced compound located about three kilometres away from Kitale.

Inside the facility, the security team found over 2,000 gas cylinders, refilling pipes, water tanks, jerrycans, funnel, and gas level monitor among other items.

The facility, which is next to a guest house, a hotel and a hospital was also discovered to be running an illegal charcoal business.

"We got information from the Nyumba Kumi team, and we swung into action. However, we had to wait for a long time to access the well-fenced compound," said Onditi.

The team found that there were about 20 different brands of gas cylinders. The facility, the team noted lacked operation documents and firefighting equipment.

Upon scrutiny, Onditi said they established that the owner lacked necessary documents related to gas business.

"The owner was unable to produce documents related to the business, and we were shocked that the compound lacked firefighting equipment," said Onditi.

He added: “This is a serious crime because the owner is operating an illegal business in a residential home. There is no even a fire extinguisher in case there is a gas leak.”

Area County Nema Director Stanley Ambasa confirmed that the owner had not obtained an environmental impact assessment licence.

He said that despite operating illegally, the business lacked the necessary safety measures.

"It is unfortunate that the business has been operating without the legal documents such as an environmental impact assessment licence and lacked safety measures," said Ambasa.

Ms Okondo lauded the public for providing critical information that helped them discover the illegal gas business.

She warned the people against opening businesses without acquiring legal documents.

The team arrested the owner of the business and ordered for the closure of the facility. The suspect was led to Kiminini Police Station where he was booked before he is arraigned in court.

A resident, who declined to be named, told The Standard the business has been going on for the past seven years.

"The compound is well-guarded. We only see lorries enter and leave at night," said the resident.

Another source said the business was being protected by senior government officials.

The raid comes barely five days after six people were killed and several others injured after a gas leak at an illegal gas business plant in Embakasi area, Nairobi.

In Kakamega, residents of Amalemba estate raised concerns over a gas depot located at the estate, barely one kilometre from Kakamega town.

They want the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra), and the County Government of Kakamega to move with speed and conduct safety audit at the depot to ensure it is compliant with the set regulations.

Next to the depot is a church and several shops.

"We don't want what happened in Embakasi to befall us. The authorities should assure us of our safety by conducting a thorough audit of the safety measures the management has put in place," said Joram Wanjala, a boda boda rider at Shirere.

Wanjala said: "You cannot tell what's happening at the depot as the management is unfriendly."

He wondered what the management could be hiding "yet 'our concerns are genuine."

His sentiments were shared by Irene Otieno, a vegetable vendor at Amalemba market, who said everyone must be on the lookout to avert a disaster "because our security comes first."

"Our leaders should swing into action. We have lost our people in Embakasi, property worth millions destroyed and survivors left nursing injuries. Prevention is better than cure, let those concerned come and assure us of our safety and security," said Ms Otieno.

When The Standard visited the gas depot, the management 'turned us away', saying 'trespassers are not welcomed."

Security guards at the gate ordered us to leave. "Our boss doesn't want to talk to you. He says he has other engagements," said one of the guards before locking the gate.

In Mombasa, environmentalists have called for a major inspection of gas refilling points to weed out those operating in residential areas.

They noted that gas refilling stations are known to be operated in godowns and garages particularly in Changamwe, Portreiz and Miritini posing danger to residents.

Nema Mombasa manager Samuel Lopokoiyit urged residents to report any activities that may suggest illegal gas refiling in the county for immediate action.

A veteran environmentalist Benson Wemali said there was looming danger in Mombasa as some of the gas refilling stations are operated at night and are not labelled.

According to Mr Wemali, the outlets are operated by untrained and unskilled people and hence are a time bomb.

"These outlets have no capacity or modern equipment to combat fire emergencies. The Nema and Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority should carry out an inspection in Mombasa in light of the Embakasi gas explosion and ensure the residential areas are not compromised," he said.

Wemali said the gas refilling stations should not be allowed to operate in residential areas because their impact in terms of emergency is huge.

"There is an urgent need for government officers to carry out compliance inspections and ensure that the gas refilling stations are compliant and licensed," he said.

Mombasa has two main gas plants-Taifa Gas and African Gas and Oil (Agol) which receive the gas from ships at the port but there are mushrooming gas refilling stations, some spread out to residential areas.

In Kisumu County, many traders have built cages along the streets, business centre and even in residential estates.

However, few others are safely caged in open-air spaces like supermarkets, petrol stations and hospitals.

As for Emmanuel Onyango, a shop owner in the same estate, his gas cylinders are stored in his house.

Even though Onyango insists on the safety of his gas plant, he notes he has no fire extinguishers in case of an emergency.

Maxwell Odour who sells cylinders by the roadside in the Kondele area has his cylinders locked in the open air without any cages.

In Kisii, there are two large different gas refilling stations. One is located in Nyabioto in Kisii South and the other at Itumbe Sameta Sub County.

In Migori County, gas dealers have been assembling their cylinders either along the road, close to residential areas or markets.

“Some gas cylinders have been placed dangerously on the road and this poses a great danger to us,” Mark Ouma, a resident of Migori town said.

Musa Olwalo who is the Municipal Manager in Migori town said the traders are required to place their gas into cages and comply with set regulations and lighting agreements to prevent future fire accidents.

The move was announced two weeks after a fire gutted business stalls at Migori town bus park.

[Reporting by Osinde Obare, Nathan Ochunge, Patrick Beja, Sharon Owino, Eric Abuga, Anne Atieno]