Blaze at gas plant raises security questions

Kathmandu, December 20

A massive fire broke out at Super Gas factory in Sukhasaina, Birgunj, today, killing two fire fighters and leaving five others injured.

Regarded as one of the biggest accidents in Nepal’s gas industry, the incident not only created havoc among nearby settlements of Super Gas factory but also raised questions over safety compatibility of liquefied petroleum gas bottling plants in Nepal.

A preliminary study carried out by the police showed that the gas plant caught fire following leakage while unloading gas from LPG bullet to gas reservoirs inside the factory of Super Gas. The independent probe teams formed by Nepal LP Gas Industry Association and Nepal Oil Corporation might shed more light on what really happened.

Nepal does not have its independent safety standards for LPG plants. However, it is mandatory for all 53 gas companies operating in the country to follow LPG safety standards prescribed by Indian Oil Corporation — the sole supplier of LPG to Nepal. But the question is to what extent are gas bottling companies in the country abiding by IOC’s LPG safety guidelines and how strictly has the regulator monitored the implementation of safety guidelines?

Gas bottlers claim that Nepali gas bottling companies have been giving high priority to safety issues (both inside the gas bottling plant and in LPG cylinders) and today’s blaze at Super Gas factory is only a one-off incident. However, Director General of Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology Bishwobabu Pudasaini opined that gas companies in Nepal were not complying with even 10 per cent of the prescribed safety standards. “Nepali gas bottlers have been compromising with quality and safety standards and the regulatory role from related government agencies is very weak. Today’s accident calls for the government to immediately carry out safety audits of gas companies and their LPG cylinders in the market,” said Pudasaini.

Along with security and safety issues inside gas companies, bottlers have also been criticised for circulating poor quality cylinders in the market.

In May last year, three people were killed after a cylinder of HP Gas exploded in Lalitpur. In a separate incident in the same month, one person was killed and six were injured when an LPG cylinder of Sugam Gas exploded in Kalimati.

However, officials of NOC — the regulatory body of the government for the fuel industry — said the main problem was lack of preparedness among the staff of gas companies and no contingency plan in case of an accident. “Gas companies have maintained safety standards, although they may be inadequate. However, it is because of some operational lapses that accidents like today’s occur inside gas bottling plants,” said Deepak Baral, director at LPG Department of NOC. Had one of the staffers switched off the valve of the gas tank immediately after gas leakage was noticed inside Super Gas factory, perhaps the accident would not have been so severe, Baral added.

Still it cannot be denied that incidents like the blaze in the gas factory and repeated explosions of LPG cylinders point to the fact that there exist some security lapses in gas companies and LPG cylinders circulated in the market.