SON DG, Joseph Odumodu
Crusoe Osagie in this report warns against the subtle pressure on SON to lower its globally accepted standards for LPG handling in Nigeria, stressing that it could result in the installation of a dangerous explosive devices in homes nationwide
The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) is currently under intense pressure from some members of the Nigerian Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (NLPGA) to bend the rules in its enforcement of the globally accepted standards of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) handling, distribution and sale across the country, which SON has put in place.
In 2007, SON gathered 21 experts and stakeholder from the Oil and Gas sector including Professor Steve Odi-Owei of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology; Mrs Mary-Anne Adeeko of Mobil Oil Nigeria plc; Opara Williams of Chevron and G.F Odunuga of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) among others to brainstorm and elaborate the globally acceptable standards that will regulate all LPG dealings in the country.
The outcome of that think-tank was a copy righted document of the Nigerian Industrial Standard for LPG approved by the SON governing council, which is said to be at par with similar guidelines in the United State and Europe.
But with the Federal Government now pushing a policy that would encourage the use of LPG by most Nigerians instead of Kerosene, the massive market potential now perceived by stakeholders may have led them to the decision to try and manipulate SON in order to take full advantage of an enhanced market without committing necessary investment.
Unlike Kerosene, LPG can only be carried in specialised gas tanks in the gas stations and gas cylinders in domestic areas and unfortunately, most of the gas canisters and tanks in Nigeria are either expired, in a bad shape or below the minimum standards required to hold LPG safely, especially the Propane variant of the gas, which exerts higher pressure than the other variant Butane.
THISDAY investigation revealed that instead of squaring up with the challenge and raising funds to invest in standard LPG tanks, cylinders and other equipment in order to take advantage of the increased business set to emerge in the sector, operators of the sector want the easy way out. Most of them, who are members of NLPGA, are pushing SON to lower its globally accepted standards.
What are the Standards?
According to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) “a standard is a document, established by a consensus of subject matter experts and approved by a recognised body that provides guidance on the design, use or performance of materials, products, processes, services, systems or persons.
Our industrial society relies on standards; every day we use thousands of standards. This may seem incredible, but the fact is that we unknowingly use them. This is why you can use your bank card almost anywhere in the world and also the reason why your baby’s toy has no sharp edges. Standards guarantee safety and make safety a primary consideration in the regulation of activities related to any trade.
An Explosive Mix
The term LPG is used interchangeably with cooking gas, sometimes; it is also described as light fractions. It is a source of energy and as is common with other forms of energy, LPG can be hazardous unless it is properly handled in a controlled manner.
It is potentially unsafe from the time of production until it has been used and the products of combustion have been disposed of safely. The hazards commonly associated with LPG are fire and explosion. However the behaviour of LPG is predictable and the technology for hazard control is well understood.
Butane and Propane are the predominant constituents of LPG handled and/or distributed separately and also in Butane/Propane mixtures of varying proportions. On a very important note and for safety purposes, one product should not be mistaken for the other.
Propane and butane are both gases which can be utilised to heat fuel; some people think that propane and butane are just the same, because they share similar qualities. However they are not interchangeable due to the different operating pressures and burner settings required. Valves and fittings are also different to avoid confusion or accidental use of the wrong type of LPG or “cooking gas” as it is commonly referred to.
When stored as a liquid in a tank, Propane exerts a greater pressure than Butane at the same temperature this major difference is a determining factor in the storage of LPG or the cooking gas.
Propane and butane in the cooking gas composition are often combined in mixed proportions, which provide some of the advantages of each. Because propane has a lower boiling point, it can be used to force the butane out of the container, even at temperatures at or below freezing.
Due to the fact that it is compressed at a lower pressure than propane, the butane canister or cylinder has thinner walls and are usually lightweight while on the other hand pure propane needs a strong steel container to hold it under pressure, but if it has to be combined with butane it then means that the pressure can be lower, and the container lighter.
Most people are familiar with pure Butane, which is commonly found in gas cigarette lighters that most times come in plastic containers because it is compressed at low pressure and does not have the tendency to explode.
Everyone would agree that when dealing with such volatile gases it is essential to have a level of assurance that one does not end up as toast from explosion caused by putting a higher pressure Propane which is needed to force out Butane (lower pressure) in a Butane-only cylinder for cooking or more still in an imported substandard cylinder for which Nigeria has become a dumping ground of.
Ignorance is no excuse because according to the Director-General of SON, Dr. Joseph Odumodu, “Even if you put the right kerosene in a substandard stove it will still explode and cause great harm.”
Since uncontrolled releases of LPG can have serious consequences the prime objective of a LPG safety programme is to prevent uncontrolled loss of containment or leakages.
SON Standards for LPG
The SON 21-man Technical Committee on Petroleum Products fashioned out a set of regulations to guide the sector and with representatives from reputable Indigenous and International Oil Companies, NNPC, DPR and SON; a set of standards was formulated and adopted for the composition of LPG.
Now barely six years after, some members of the NLPGA are seeking the replacement of those globally accepted set of regulations for a rather hazardous version, which is not in tandem with international standards and these SON lobbyists appear hell bent to achieve their objective.
Domestic LPG Proposal
Under the current SON LPG regulations the approved standard for the composition of Propane and Butane is flexible in a 50:50 ratio, which requires dealers to go for the highest quality tanks, canisters and delivery equipment; but now this group wants this changed. They want the ratio capped at 20:80 for Propane and Butane respectively in which case they can afford to be careless about the quality of containers with which they distribute this very volatile fuel .
Two other significant changes being proposed by the group within the NLPGA, are the change of name from LPG mixture to “Domestic LPG” and the reduction of vapour pressure at 37.8 degree Celsius from SON’s current range of 750-1435 to just 619.They appear to be proposing that SON approves the installation of a ticking time bomb in homes across the country.
Unfortunately, the position of this group within the NLPGA seems not to be very popular but a few other members have distanced themselves from the call to descend from international standard to poor and unsafe standard regulations.
Proposed Vs. Existing Standards
The call for the capping of propane, which is known for its high combustibility at 20 per cent in the LPG or cooking gas mixture and the reduction of vapour pressure by this group within the industry seems rather absurd in the changing face of international trade, which has led to the requirement by manufacturers and processors to have single, globally acceptable technical standards and conformance tests.
International standardisation will continue to grow in all sectors of industrial activity because of its ability to reduce or eliminate the ambiguity in business transactions; energy production and utilisation; information processing, communication, packaging and distribution of goods and services.
Development agencies are increasingly recognising that a standardisation infrastructure is a basic condition for the success of economic policies aimed at achieving sustainable development.
More so, creating such an infrastructure in a developing country like Nigeria is essential for improving productivity, market competitiveness, foreign direct investments and export capability.
Any attempt to drop or reduce standards will expose the Nigerian market to dumping of cheap, used and substandard imported cylinders from all over the world with its attendant danger to precious lives and properties of unsuspecting Nigerians.
Imperatives for SON
Under the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, governments are required to base their national regulations on standards produced by organisations like ISO and IEC, as much as possible and not those based on selfish and hidden motives of a few industry players.
Partly because of these rules, and also because of trade liberalisation, national and regional standards bodies are either adopting or otherwise using international standards, where possible. The need for existence of a single global standard for all the technologies is a desirable objective for all the economies.
The changing global economy demands that both government and business pay more attention to international standards-related issues and activities. To now substitute a global standard for a local one such as the proposed “Domestic LPG” by some members of the NLPG would never achieve economic progress. It only amounts to self-delusion to consider a backward step as progressive just because it involves movement and positional change.
It may take several years or decades, but the inevitable fact is that we are progressively moving towards globally harmonised standard for technologies. Those opposing SON for the review of the LPG standards that would reduce the vapour pressure of cooking gas are indirectly telling us that they cannot offer cylinders that are capable of withstanding high gas pressure and that is dangerous.
As a pre-requisite for players in the sector, good technical and safety expertise should be a major requirement for primary supply and marketing companies as well equipment manufacturers.
SON must now carry out quality assessment exercises on the different companies that are involved in the manufacturing, importation and distribution of cooking gas to ascertain their level of conformity to quality and safety standards and make full compliance a compulsory requirement for remaining in the business.
The ongoing clamour for a review and their overtures to SON could mean that they already have something to hide and are looking for a cover under the law. It could also mean that SON needs to carry out a re-education of the management and owners of these firms and remind them that the 2007 LPG regulations are sacrosanct.
SON must now show Nigerians that its zero tolerance to substandard product campaign which is beginning to yield good dividends would not be derailed to serve the interest of a few individuals at the expense of the safety of the all Nigerians.
As Nigerians look ahead to see the impact of President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation agenda and the efforts to bring reasonable improvements to standard of living in the country, incidents of deaths and loss of properties from multiple cooking gas explosions is definitely not in their list of expectations.
If the LPG sector should be sanitised to ensure that only those with the capacity to deliver on standard would be given operational license the so be it.
It is a common fact that Companies just beginning a standards operation can realise even larger ROIs because relatively small investments of standardisation resources, if properly applied, can reap very significant benefits.
The LPG National Strategic Policy should also be pursued with gusto by the Federal Government in order to achieve its immediate, short-term, medium and long-term measures.
Nigerians are eagerly waiting for the launch of the pilot programmes to replace kerosene with LPG and the government’s promise to provide free and low cost starter kit of cylinder, basic appliances and ‘standard LPG’.
The rate of unemployment will also be reduced when we begin to witness a significant increase in the manufacture and distribution of locally manufactured-to-standard specification gas cylinders.
One aspect that cannot and must not be compromised is that of health and safety because a lot of people believe that cooking gas is dangerous in itself and are therefore completely averse to the idea whereas the truth is that it is more environmentally and health friendly as well as safe to use.
Consumer safety awareness campaigns should constitute an essential part of the LPG National Strategic Policy as safety principles and they should emphasise: The risks associated with inferior installation standards and/or practices; The need for care and in particular for adequate ventilation; How to recognise the smell of odourised cooking gas and the action to take when gas leakage is detected. Those whose stock in trade it is to fill old and expired cylinders by the road sides should also be sanctioned and prohibited from doing so.
Odumodu who must be commended for the work he has done so far to whip operators into line in various sector of the economy once said, some unscrupulous traders when exposed claimed they did not know their products could kill, he wondered if these illicit traders were really Nigerians, because no one can rationalise sacrificing his own peoples’ lives for monetary gains. “Yet it happens daily.” Now, the LPG sector is another practical opportunity for the SON DG to display his resolve to protect innocent Nigerian consumers.
Regulatory agencies must continue to ensure that appliances and equipment for the handling, transportation and use of LPG should be fit-for-purpose, correctly installed and well-maintained. Sub-standard appliances, equipment and installations should be completely excluded by regulation.
LPG standards and codes embody the technical expertise of a mature industry, which constantly seeks to improve its safety image and performance; Nigeria got it right in 2007 and it should not throw all that away now. If the country allows greed to take preeminence over reason, posterity would not judge policy makers kindly.