One Gas Explosion Too Many

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Last week Thursday, a gas explosion rocked the Baruwa area of Ipaja Lagos and claimed five lives. While eight others sustained varying degree of injuries, the explosion gutted 89 shops, 47 buildings and 10 vehicles. However, Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that new revelations showing the accident was totally avoidable, has again brought to the front burner the danger of citing gas plants in residential areas

An early morning gas explosion on Thursday, October 8, rocked the Baruwa area of Ipaja, Lagos, leaving five persons dead and eight others with varying degree of injuries. Preliminary assessment of the explosion put the damages at 89 shops, 47 buildings (including a church, school and event centre), 23 electric poles, two transformers, gas tankers, one tricycle and one motorcycle.

According to eyewitness account, the explosion occurred at about 6.20am at Candos Road, Baruwa Inside when an a LPG tanker, which was in the process of discharging at the Best Roof Plant Station, exploded.

THISDAY gathered that the source of the explosion could be traced to the station generator, which they left on while the tanker was discharging products into the storage tank. When the explosion happened, it threw those nearby and the discharging LPG tanker across the road, thus exacerbating the fire.

Confirming the incident, the South-west Zonal Coordinator for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye said emergency services were quickly deployed to contain the inferno. He said five dead bodies have been recovered so far and three injured person including a woman and two children has been evacuated and taken to the intensive care hospital due to the degree of burns.

He said the destruction was on a large scale because the Best Roof Gas Plant Station was located in densely populated community. After putting out the initial fire, he said the stored gas in the station started discharging the gas but there was no explosion again.

THISDAY gathered that the gas plant has about 30 metric tons of gas in the underground tank and while it was offloading, the staff were also in the process of dispensing to domestic consumer. As at 9.04am, Farinloye said the fire was put out completely and the secondary gas leakage from the underground tanker has been put under control as well and damping done.

However, he said a preliminary assessment has revealed that 44 buildings were affected, as well as one school, one event centre, 89 shops, one church, one tricycle, gas tankers, 23 electric poles, two transformers and one motorcycle.

According to the zonal coordinator, the gas valve has been opened to release the gas to avert another explosion while fire fighters are blanketing the whole area.

Speaking also, the DG/CEO Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr Olufemi Damilola Oke-Osanyintolu, encouraged Lagosians to report unsavoury and dangerous practices within their neighbourhoods to the relevant agencies.

“Such agencies as the Lagos Safety Commission, and Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, so that the government can engage in more prevention and precautionary measures including issuing contravention notices and sealing up premises to prevent these types of disasters,” he added.

One of the residents whose wife’s three shops were razed to the ground, former News Editor of TODAY’S CHOICE Magazine, Mr. Jide Oshokoya said: “Everything in those shops were burnt to ashes. We could not go near the burning shops to rescue even a pin.”

He however took consolation in the promise made by the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Hamzat Obafemi, to see to how to compensate people who lost property in the fire. “The deputy governor was here to assess the situation. He has promised to look into our case. We are hoping something is done to ameliorate the pain this destruction has wreaked on our businesses and economy”.

An Avoidable Explosion

Days after the explosion, the residents have come out to say the disaster could have been totally avoided. A petition made available to THISDAY showed the community had written to the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development in 2018 to complain about the presence of the gas plant in a densely populated suburb.

Signed by Femi Agbaje (Esq.), the community had written on February 5, 2018 titled “Humble please to save our lives and properties of dangerous effects of gas station erected/operation by Best Roof Gas Station at No 618 Cardoso Road, Baruwa, Ipaja, Lagos.

In response to their petition, one B.A.A Ajayi, ADTPS (TSD) from the ministry, dated March 15, 2018, acknowledged their letter and indicated the willingness of the ministry to evacuate the gas plant, but at a cost.

He wrote: “You are to swear an affidavit to bear the cost of removal if approval is granted. The sum of N689,500 is payable to the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development. N68,900 is payable to the Lagos State Government.”

With the cost of removing the structure placed on the community, they soon gave up hope, and status quo was maintained until their fears were realised when the explosion finally occurred.

The legal advocate who wrote the petition for the community told THISDAY, ” I wrote that petition on behalf of my clients (the Inside Baruwa residents) to the Ministry of Physical Planning in Alausa. They acknowledged our letter and replied stating that we will need to bear the entire cost of removing the Best Roof Gas Depot which was put at over N700,000.

” The residents said they don’t have such money and that the person who built the gas depot in purely residential area should remove it. But barely two years after we raised that alarm, see what has happened to property and businesses of people in that neighborhood. Some souls were equally lost in that early morning inferno.”

With the explosion, residents of the area have called on Lagos State to revoke all approval given to gas and petroleum stations in residential areas in the state. Residents of Peace Estate, New London Estate, Unique, Makinde and Unity Estates have promised to lead protests to Alausa seat of government of nothing is done immediately.

“People living in this neighborhood voiced their fears when gas and petroleum stations started springing up around here. See what has happened now. We are going to resist a similar depot the same owner is erecting along Candos Road,” warned Ayomide Johnson, a resident on Unity Street.

Already, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) in their preliminary reports from DPR investigations revealed that the facility was operating without licence and was carrying out illegal operations, which resulted in the unfortunate incident.

Timeline of Gas Explosions

As shocking as it may seem, from November 2019 to October 2020, not less that six gas explosions were recorded in Lagos, each with its widespread consequences.

On November 28, 2019, two children (male and female), were killed while 23 others were injured in the Ajegunle area of Lagos. The incident occurred at Adule Street, Off Ojo Road, in Ajegunle area near Apapa.

The DG LASEMA who confirmed the development said at the scene of the incident, they discovered that a gas cylinder store had exploded as a result of leakage. He said further investigations revealed that the fire ignited as a result of a phone call by an unidentified resident.

On Sunday, March 15, 2020, nothing gave the residents of Abule-Ado in Amuwo Odofin Local Government area of Lagos State an inkling that their world as they knew it was about to crumble like a pack of badly stacked cards. Some were on their way to church, some were already in church and others at home when the loud explosion occurred at about 9am.

The explosion tore down houses, destroyed cars and even killed 23 people including a family of four, a newly married couple and a pregnant woman. The explosion which was heard as far as Agege, Yaba, Ejigbo and even Okota, was first thought to be bomb blast, gas explosion and then pipeline explosion before reports surfaced that it was gas that escaped into the air that caused the explosion.

On July 29, 2020, three persons were killed in a gas explosion at Ajao Estate area of Lagos. The explosion left several persons injured and properties destroyed.

According to NEMA Zonal Coordinator South-west, Mr Ibrahim Farinloye, the explosion occurred at a panel beater’s shop while he was was trying top up his Oxycytelene flame popularly known as ‘Cabard’ cylinder.

On August 3, 20202, another gas explosion claimed two lives at the Orile-Iganmu area of Lagos. One of the deceased persons, Ajibola Olaoye, who was an artisan, was said to have died while working with his welding machine on a heavy duty equipment.

According to investigation and eyewitness account, the explosion was as a result of a leak in the supply of gas from the cylinder which the artisan was using leading to the explosion.

On September 24, 2020, another explosion occurred at Iju Ishaga. The explosion was caused by a 30 tonne

LPG gas tanker that left 30 people severely injured, 15 vehicles razed and 23 buildings in gutted.

According to DG/CEO LASEMA, Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, it was discovered that a compromised seal device by the truck driver led to gradual leakages which then ignited when the tyres burst.

Barely weeks later, last week Thursday, the Baruwa explosion occurred and claims lived and properties.

Disaster in Residential Areas

As have been proven with the incessant explosions in residential areas, installing gas plants within a residential environment is a disaster in the making.

The reason is not far fetched; most of the gas plants do not operate a valid licence and are often not equipped to handle such enormity of fire disasters. Most of these plants lack basic and standard minimum requirements like fire extinguishers and detectors, water sprinkler, temperature gauge, pressure and volume, among others.

With the absence of the above mentioned basic and essential safety requirements, the consequences are enormous. Although operating without a valid licence attracts a fine while those that are illegal are handed over to the security agencies, these gas plants still thrive in residential areas.

Rules without Sustained Enforcement

As with each time an explosion occurs, regulatory agencies sprout out rules that are enforced for a period of time and then relaxed. Countless times, these regulatory agencies have carried out enforcement but they are never sustained.

Apart from moves by the DPR, the civil defence and even the police to enforce these regulations, another move was made by cooking gas stakeholders to end incessant gas plant explosions as was reported by THISDAY in January 2018.

Stakeholders in the Liquefied Petroleum Gas sector (LPG) sector, under the aegis of the Nigerian Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (NLPGA) had unveiled measures to end the incessant gas plant explosions in the country.

Rising from its emergency meeting in Lagos, the Safety and Technical Committee of NLPGA had issued a communiqué highlighting the need to address the three overarching industry objectives – safe handling and best practises in LPG; loss of containment (prevention of gas leaks); and successful disaster management.

Recent Efforts

Worried by the incessant gas explosions, the Nigeria Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (NLPGA) in August 2020, again stressed on need for safety.

According to the association, it was imperative to clarify that Oxyacetylene gas is not the same as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) because the latter which is commonly known as cooking gas, is a group of flammable hydrocarbon gases that are liquefied through pressurisation and mostly used as fuel.

“ It is a reliable and affordable source of clean fuel with its attendant advantages to health, environment as well as the economy. A major contributing factor to low adoption and/or acceptance of LPG as a better and cheaper source of clean fuel is the safety concerns and several cases of fire incidences associated with use and handling of flammable gases, including LPG.

“No doubt, considerable and deliberate steps as to training and awareness about LPG (and other flammable gases) is integral to having a viable, sustainable LPG businesses operation, a safe environment and reduction if not eradicated system for cases of fire incidents”, they added.

Also, stakeholders have advocated that continuously, gas plants and LPG retailers be introduced to the new and standard minimum requirements acceptable in the industry. The new model by government prohibits decanting (transferring from one gas cylinder to another). Also, trans-filling is also not allowed (whereby one drops their empty cylinder and pick another one with gas).

New Operational Guidelines

Soon after the explosion in Baruwa, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) released guidelines for the establishment and operations of the downstream gas facilities.

The new operational guidelines include- providing guidelines for the establishment and operations of LPG refilling plants and retail outlets, guidelines for establishment of auto gas re-fuelling stations and guidelines for the establishment of gas storage and utilisation.

The Director of DPR, Mr. Sarki Auwalu, in a statement by the agency’s Head of Public Affairs, Mr. Paul Osu, stated that the guidelines stipulates the minimum requirements, procedures and conditions to be fulfilled before the grant of approvals or licences for the construction, installation, modification, takeover, relocation and operations of downstream gas facilities in Nigeria.

He said the guidelines were developed to enhance gas penetration and utilisation, enhance operational safety as well as ease of doing business in the oil and gas sector, adding that

companies intending to establish these facilities must satisfy all necessary requirements stipulated by DPR and obtain the underlisted applicable approvals – site suitability approval; Approval to Construct (ATC)/Approval to Install, and Licence to Operate.

He said necessary amenities and equipment such as functional automated/manual leak tester, functional fire alarm system, and mounted gas detectors, adequate fire water storage and sprinklers, perimeter fence with fire wall amongst others must be provided in the facilities.

Standard Procedures

As stipulated by the DPR, there are standard procedures that must be taken before one sets up a gas plant and they include getting land of a minimum size of 100 by 100 feet, getting DPR regulatory approvals before even setting up the gas plant equipments.

In all three steps, the DPR approval is supposed to be sacrosanct. Thus, one must get approval for site suitability, to construct and also licence to operate.

The first step, which is site suitability approval is key because in this level is where the proximity to residential areas, schools, pipelines, public spaces, high tension wires are measured. Also, soil contamination is measured to ensure underground water will not in any way be contaminated in any way by waste products from the gas plants.

In the approval to construct, it is expected that site suitability has been approved. This is more of a design stage that involves the pipe architecture.

Lastly is the licence to operate and again DPR has a say in this even after the other two processes have been fulfilled.

Sadly, despite all these processes clearly stated on the website of the DPR and other relevant agencies, most gas plant owners do not bother to fulfill all the standard requirements, which often results to the large scale magnitude of disasters. Thus, the onus lies on government established agencies and stakeholders in the sector to sustain enforcement as the lapses pose greater risk to lives of citizens.