The Star (Nairobi)

Kenyans Have a Responsibility in Arresting Illegal LPG Trade

The government of Kenya has long recognised the importance of Liquefied Petroleum Gas as an alternative household energy source that could replace use of biomass. The need to replace use of biomass as a primary source of energy in Kenya has become inevitable due to the undesirable results that come with its combustion.

Statistics indicate that at least two million people die annually mostly in sub Saharan Africa and Asia due to respiratory complications emanating from inhalation of toxic products of incomplete combustion of biomass.

Conservative estimates indicate that biomass contributes to 68 per cent of the energy consumption in Kenya with petroleum contributing per cent while electricity contributes about nine per cent. Renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar contribute about one per cent. A lot of effort has been put by the government to ensure that LPG is conveniently availed to the populace and at an affordable price.

Amongst these efforts include the standardisation of LPG cylinder valves by the government through legal notice 121 of 2009 and the establishment of the LPG cylinder exchange pool that allows the interexchange ability of different brands of cylinders.

This piece of legislation has ensured that consumers do not traverse long distances in search of a particular cylinder brand outlet at the time of refill and as such they can exchange one brand of cylinder with another at any retail oulet.

In addition, the government through a Public Private Partnership oversaw the building and commissioning of the largest LPG import terminal in East and Central Africa. The terminal has a capacity of 14,000 metric tonnes and is located at Miritini Mombasa. This terminal has enabled the LPG industry to import cargoes of up to 10,000 metric tonnes as opposed to earlier sizes of between 1,200 and 1,500 metric tonnes.

The immediate impact on the use of this terminal will be a reduction in the freight and premium rates of the cargoes which is expected to translate in a reduction in LPG prices. A further reduction in the price of LPG will be realized from a reduction in the amount of demurrage costs due to faster ship offloads as a result of the expansive LPG receipt space.

The current annual LPG consumption in the country is estimated at about 90,000 metric tonnes which roughly translates to 2.25 kilos per capita consumption which is below the average consumption rate of 3 kilos per person in Africa. However, it is envisaged that the demand for LPG in Kenya is expected to peak about 200,000 metric tonnes once the constraints in the current supply chain are smoothened out.

The increased use of LPG in Kenya has not been without challenges with key among them being the proliferation of illegal LPG operators. These operations are driven by unscrupulous business persons who specialize in the filling and distribution of LPG cylinder brands without any authority from the brand owners. The LPG cylinders get to the unscrupulous persons through consumers seeking cylinder refills or even through theft of cylinders from LPG marketing companies. LPG cylinder thefts have become rampant with several petrol stations reporting such cases in the past.

The current LPG licensing framework under the ambient of the Energy Act, 2006 requires that people desirous of operating LPG businesses obtain licences from the Energy Regulatory Commission. These businesses encompass activities such as import, export, wholesale, transport, storage and filling of LPG. The evaluation of LPG installations for purposes of licensing is a detailed activity owing to the hazardous nature of this product and any site is vigorously evaluated to ensure that the minimum safety standards are met. Illegal LPG installations are thus a big health hazard to their surrounding and the public should report any suspect sites operating in the neighborhoods.

ERC on its part has continued to root out these unscrupulous business operatives and prosecute them. This has been done through joint operations with other government agencies including the Kenya Police (Flying Squad Division), the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Anti-Counterfeit Authority. To further enhance its enforcement mandate, the Commission procured the services of an independent LPG inspector whose main role is to audit the entire LPG supply chain with the aim of bringing to the fore persons engaging in malpractices for purposes of prosecution by the Commission.

In addition, the Commission has also initiated the process of revising legal notice 121 of 2009 with a view to increasing the penalties and fines to be levied on any persons found in breach of the requirements.

The consumer plays a big role in the LPG supply chain in that they provide the necessary market especially for the cooking gas in cylinders. Consumers can thus play a major role in ensuring that illegal operatives are brought to a halt by ensuring that they only purchase LPG from licensed retailers. It is crucial for consumers to note that all licensed LPG dealers should have a licence displayed at their location of business every time and that they should always issue an official receipt with the cylinder weight and serial number clearly indicated.

For their own safety, consumers are advised to check on the cylinder's neck for the validity of the test dates for the cylinders that they intend to buy. LPG cylinders with test dates exceeding 8 years from the last date of test are deemed to be prone to material failure and hence explosions. Several explosions of such cylinders have been reported in the recent past some of which resulted in loss of life.

Consumers should also know that in accordance to Legal Notice 121 of 2009, the only person authorized to fill an LPG cylinder is the person whose brand appears on the particular cylinder. Companies filling other companies' brands of cylinders are considered to be counter-feiting the original brand and are thus culpable under the Anti-Counterfeit law. Thus, while the use of LPG is encouraged, all of us have a critical role in ensuring that the distribution of this product is done as per the law. Eng. Linus Gitonga is the Director Petroleum at the Energy Regulatory Commission

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