Energy & Mining

Atomic Junction

Accra LPG explosion raises concern

Last weekend's massive explosion at an LPG station in Accra raises questions about infrastructure maintenance and standards in Ghana's fuel distribution industry.

 

An explosion is seen after a natural gas station exploded in Ghana’s capital Accra, in this image obtained from social media October 7, 2017. Credit: @ronnieamofa/via Reuters

An explosion shook the Ghanaian capital city last weekend, leaving seven deceased and 132 injured.

On Saturday, at 19:30 local time, a fire broke out at a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) station operated by the state-owned GOIL fuel distributer. The fire spread quickly to a fuel pump station owned by Total, located across the street at Atomic Junction.

The resulting explosion could be seen across the city.

Over 200 firefighters, medical personnel, and police officers were at the scene, and the whole junction was closed down.

Panic naturally ensued as the explosion was felt across several neighborhoods of the capital.

The accident has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to announce it will be conducting a risk assessment and audit of as many as 600 LPG and other fuel distribution service stations across the nation, threatening to shut down any that do not comply with the safety regulations.

The EPA has come under considerable public criticism for allowing fuel-pumping stations in highly populated areas.

According to the agency’s executive director, Abum Sarkodie, there is no regulation forbidding the presence of fuel stations in residential areas, with the exception of LPG stations, that are not allowed in light and heavy industrial areas.

Early this week, reports came out indicating that the government had been working on a new framework regulation aimed at curbing the number of gas and fuel explosions, but that the petrochemicals sector had been lobbying against this.

The accident that first motivated a revision of regulations was one of the deadliest in Ghana in recent memory.
On June 3rd 2015, intense rains turned into a tropical storm and the capital was flooded.

Floodwater entered the fuel deposits and petrol spread across the surface. A fire in a nearby house ignited the mix, and around 150 people were killed in the ensuing flames.

That was unfortunately not the latest such event to take place in the country. In December 2016, six people died and 12 were severely injured after a gas explosion took out the Louis Gas Station, close to the Trade Fair Center, in Accra.

Just last May, an explosion broke out at a factory in Takoradi while LPG was being transferred from a tanker, killing six people and injuring at least 80.

It seems, however, that this time the government is committed to resolving the problem, but Ghanaians will have to wait and see. Social pressure tends to go a long way in Ghana, which has one of the most engaged and outspoken civil societies in West Africa.

Beyond the pumping stations, however, another risk looms in the horizon, a plight suffered by many across Sub-Saharan Africa.

The tankers that crisscross the country’s roads transporting fuel are poorly maintained and often break down.
Fuel is a valuable and easily tradable commodity throughout the country, where one can often see people selling bags full of gasoline on the side of the highway.

This means that when a tanker breaks down, rather than stay away, people try to gather as much of the leaking fuel as possible.

Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to events like that of November 2008 near the town of Tanoso, where 23 people were killed when an explosion broke out while they were siphoning leaking fuel from a broken down tanker.

Such incidents will likely only be avoided through a mix of education and public awareness campaigns, in addition to regulatory reform.

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