Opinion divided over eateries at fuel stations; implementation of laws said to be lax
BY MOHAMMAD SHOEB
DOHA: The safety of gas cylinders, gas tanks and fuel stations is under scrutiny after the explosion behind Landmark Mall on Thursday that claimed 11 lives and left 35 people injured.
Experts suggest that the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) instead of piped natural gas, which is safer and more environment-friendly, is to blame for such incidents.
“This is all because of LPG cylinders and tanks,” said a petroleum engineer who did not want his name in print.
“All LPG cylinders, even the transparent non-metallic LPG cylinders that are considered much safer than the metal ones, are potential bombs in our kitchens,” he said.
He wondered why Qatar was not promoting use of piped natural gas, which is much less inflammable than LPG, by developing an underground supply network for domestic and commercial consumption.
Natural gas, being 0.6 times lighter than air, gets dispersed in the atmosphere quickly in the event of a leak or accident, while LPG, which is 1.2 times heavier than air, remains in an area after an accident or leak, thereby fuelling fires and causing more damage.
Laying a network of gas pipelines obviously involves huge costs, but due to the relative safety of piped natural gas, it is used worldwide. Some real estate giants, such as Barwa, UDC and Ezdan, provide piped gas in their housing complexes, but a wide network for piped natural gas is needed, said the engineer.
After Thursday’s incident, several netizens, including members of the Central Municipal Council (CMC), wrote on social networking sites about the potential dangers of using LPG cylinders and tanks at commercial establishments, especially restaurants and cafeterias located near fuel stations.
Some favour letting the eateries remain at the fuel stations, given the commercial value of their location. However, they suggest that the use of LPG be banned at such facilities and they be asked to use electric ovens or heaters for cooking.
Some others said the safety of those working at these restaurants should be given top priority, even suggesting that the outlets be provided subsidised electricity so that they remain competitive.
Mishal Al Dahneem, a CMC member, said: “It is now high time to think and study seriously the idea of adopting the use of natural gas at homes, restaurants and all other commercial establishments.”
He said developing a network of gas pipelines across the country should be considered as important as development of infrastructure such as roads and sewage lines.
A former CMC member, Ibrahim Al Ibrahim, said: “I know this (laying gas pipelines) needs time, but it is the best way to avoid such fatal accidents in future.”
Al Ibrahim said that for the time being restaurants and cafeterias should be asked to switch over to use of electricity, and in collaboration with Kahramaa (the public utility), there should be a provision for supplying them power at reasonable rates until gas pipeline networks are developed.
Some CMC members strongly criticised the operation of eateries and restaurants at fuel stations.
“Unfortunately, our petrol stations are full of commercial activities, including restaurants and cafeterias, which use large volumes of LPG 24 hours, posing a great danger,” said Ahmad Al Sheeb, a CMC member.
He called on the authorities to stop giving licences for such outlets.
Sheikh Al Jaferi, another member of the civic body, said: “We have been discussing the issue of relocating restaurants and cafeterias from petrol stations over the last couple of years, but without any results. They must be given a time frame to move to other places.”
“Stricter inspections by highly qualified and experienced professionals should be conducted on these facilities routinely to minimise the potential danger they pose to customers and workers at these outlets,” he said.
However, some do not think stringent rules and inspections are the answer.
A prominent Qatari engineer, who is also a columnist and writer, said: “Rules and regulations should not only be people-friendly, they ought to be business-friendly also. We need to exercise a balanced approach while setting a policy framework. More often than not, it has been observed that stricter rules and regulations cause indefinite delays in getting civil defence clearances for projects rather than improving the situation on the ground.”
He added: “Usually, the only beneficiaries of stricter rules are companies that supply safety and security equipment.”
Eateries operating from their premises apart, the condition of some of the private petrol stations in Doha, especially the older ones, is not very encouraging.
Last year, an explosion in an underground tank at Al Andalus Petrol Station on C-Ring Road caused the ground to cave in, leading to panic in the area. Luckily no one was injured in the explosion.
The Peninsula has learnt from sources that an old petrol station in Al Wakra that was closed for several months for flouting safety rules has become operational after it was acquired by a leading fuel retailer, which carried out some “renovation and cosmetic changes”.
A legal expert who did not wish to be named said: “There is no dearth of laws related to safety in Qatar. The problem lies in their implementation. Safety and security-related issues are not confined to gas stations and eateries.”
He said it has been found that people do not mind renovating dilapidated buildings to get safety clearance from the authorities and rent them out to companies to be used as labour accommodation.
“There should some conscience and a sense of collective responsibility on the part of every individual, including inspectors and enforcement agencies. We must realise that every human life is precious,” said the lawyer.
DOHA: The gas tank at the Turkish restaurant exploded on Thursday within 30 minutes of being refuelled, according to reports.
An engineer at Woqod, the company which owned the gas tank, told this newspaper yesterday that commercial LPG tanks, which come in various capacities of up to 1,000 litres, cannot explode unless they are mishandled by unauthorised persons.
The engineer, who is not authorised to speak to the media, listed the safety features of the tanks. He said they were made of metal and were very strong. Secondly, they are never filled to more than 80 percent of their capacity, and even if they are overfilled, safety valves in the tanks automatically release the extra gas. The condition of the tanks is routinely checked by professionals who issue certificates to the tank owners.
“Woqod engineers will never fill these tanks without a valid fitness certificate, which is issued only by Woqod-approved consultants,” he said.
The Technical Director of Woqod, Hajji Al Rumaihi, on Thursday said at a press conference: “Woqod conducts periodical inspection of all gas tanks in all restaurants, and expert engineers ensure inspection procedures have been carried out by approved companies. We never allow anybody to fix any product that is not approved by Woqod.
“All equipment of this restaurant and the tank were inspected on January 15. For additional safety, Woqod had fixed a gas detector on the top of the restaurant, beside the tank,” Al Rumaihi said.