DOHA: More gas generated through industrial activity was burnt off in gas flares on March 21 and it could not be released into the atmosphere due to low pressure and clouds hanging low, and that caused a widespread gas smell on that day.
This was disclosed yesterday by a fact-finding committee that was set up by the Prime Minister and Interior Minister, H E Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani.
The Committee was set up after people complained of a foul gas smell in several areas of the country on March 21, a Friday.
According to the Committee, the smell hung in the air for about six-and-a-half hours, from 12 noon until 6.30 pm on March 21, in areas that included Doha and its outskirts.
The committee, though, said there was no threat to public health and the only problem was foul gas smell.
The Committee did admit that air pollution levels were high that day but said that the levels were not as high as to breach the National Safety Standard. But the Committee did not cite any figures of air pollution on March 21 nor did it say what the limits of National Safety Standard were.
The high-profile committee appointed by the Premier should have actually cited some figures due to the sensitivity of the issue, say observers.
Members of the Committee said at a news conference that on the day of the incident, the Ministry of Interior received 15 calls complaining of gas smell, while the Ministry of Environment, seven.
Farida Al Obaidly wrote critically in a column in a local Arabic daily on March 25 and said that the local social media was abuzz with the talk of gas smell on March 21.
The members of the fact-finding Committee included Ahmed Abdullah, Director of Weather Bureau at the Civil Aviation Authority, Abdul Aziz Jassem Al Muftah, Director of Industrial City Affairs at Qatar Petroleum (QP), Ahmed Mohamed Al Sada, Assistant Undersecretary at the Ministry of Environment, and Colonel Abdullah Al Muftah, Director of Public Relations at the interior ministry.
Ahmed Abdullah told reporters that on March 21 there was low pressure and clouds were hanging low and the movement of air was quite slow, which didn’t allow the gas burnt off in gas flares to flow up into the atmosphere.
The gas dispersed horizontally and in wider areas due to the weather conditions causing smell. Later, northwesterly wind blew and swept the gas off towards the coasts.
The Committee took help from experts and based its findings on readings from the 19 air quality monitoring stations across the country that work round-the-clock.
The officials said air pollution levels were the highest in Ras Laffan, which is the hub of Qatar’s upstream operations. “However, the levels didn’t breach the national safety standard.”
The panel has recommended that the quantity of gas emission be reduced to the lowest possible levels and all air quality monitoring units interlinked online to prevent such incidents. The panel has also underlined the need for quicker response in situations such as the one that arose on March 21.
In October 2011, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar said in a paper during a Monthly Dialogue Series that Qatar’s ecological footprint, an indicator of human consumption in relation to the earth’s resources, was the world’s second largest.
Qatar’s National Development Strategy (NDS) 2011-16, meanwhile, says that the country has seen a rise in pollutants that may be creating health risks. Among them are particulates such as dust, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ozone. A key NDS document says the target is to eliminate instances of excess ozone levels through improved air quality management. About reducing gas flaring and venting, the NDS document says that the fuel combusted during energy production accounts for 67 percent of carbon dioxide emissions here, 12 percent of which is due to gas flaring alone.
By 2016, the government is committed to halving the volume of gas flaring to 0.0115 billion cubic meters per million tons of energy produced, says the document.
Qatar also has poor ranking in the 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) released in June 2011. Among 163 countries it was ranked 122, sandwiched between China (121) and India (123), two giants.
Meanwhile, at yesterday’s news conference held at the National Command Center of the Ministry of Interior, a press statement in Arabic was handed to journalists.
There was no translation of the statement in English which is usually the practice with the ministry.