By Innocent Anguyo, Vivian Agaba & Emmanuel Luganda
Valentina Muhindo, a Kampala resident ordinarily refills gas in her six-kilogram pressurized cylinder after three months; however in early August, she was shocked whilst exasperated when her stock ran out in just two weeks.
“I realized that I had not been extravagant in using my gas because I know how expensive it is. I could not believe that a full cylinder of gas could get finished within two weeks when I had not used it to cook something like beans which takes long to get ready,” narrated Muhindo.
When Muhindo recently narrated her ordeal to her neighbor, she was told she could have bought a cylinder that was partially filled with cooking gas.
After giving the subject a thought for a while and realizing that she had been offered a raw deal, Muhindo reported the incident to her gas supplier and fortunately for her, she was issued with a new cylinder full of gas.
Muhindo is one of the several people across the country who have been cheated by gas suppliers.
As much as authorities do not have national statistics on grievances regarding cooking gas because consumers largely report anomalies to suppliers, a mini survey conducted by the New Vision reveals that scores of Ugandans have been sold lesser quantities.
Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) also referred to as simply cooking gas, or propane or butane, is a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases used as a fuel in heating appliances, cooking equipment, and vehicles.
LPG is prepared by refining petroleum or "wet" natural gas, and is almost entirely derived from fossil fuel sources, being manufactured during the refining of petroleum (crude oil), or extracted from petroleum or natural gas streams as they emerge from the ground.
It was first produced in 1910 by American Chemist Dr. Walter Snelling, and the first commercial products appeared in 1912.
It currently provides about 3% of all energy consumed, and burns relatively cleanly with no soot and very few sulfur emissions. As it is a gas, it does not pose ground or water pollution hazards, but it can cause air pollution.
LPG is used for cooking in many countries for economic reasons, for convenience or because it is the preferred fuel source. LPG is commonly used in North America for domestic cooking and outdoor grilling.
With growing income levels and rising prices of wood fuel (charcoal and firewood), Ugandans are increasingly turning to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as alternative.
Consumption of gas in Uganda
Paul Walakira, a senior standards officer at the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) says they do not have statistics of the number of Ugandans who are using LPG, however according to the Uganda Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association, 0.5% of the population uses LPG.
However, the target of the Association is to increase the usage of cooking gas to 20% of the population by 2020.
Walakira says use of LPG as a fuel in heating appliances and cooking equipment reduces dependence on biomass (wood/charcoal) thereby saving Uganda’s green scenery from destruction.
“LPG burns readily and gives off instant heat. The flame is visible and its size is easily controllable to meet your heating needs,” says Walakira.
“LPG burns efficiently that is, it is a clean gas with very low combustion emissions and does not create black smoke. It does not leave messy soot (when correctly used) so your cooking vessel can be cleaned easily.”
Walakira further notes that cooking gas is easy to replace and store in a pressurized cylinder, unlike other moderns forms of energy that require extra caution while handling. LPG is equally clean and takes up very little space in the kitchen.
However, the recent tax slapped on cooking gas has led to increment in price and reduction in demand.
“Definitely, the tax increment caused an increase in the price of LPG and this has limited the affordability of the product by certain consumers who cannot afford buying it,” says Walakira.
Following the introduction of the tax, for instance, the price of refilling a 6kilogram cylinder rose from sh50, 000 in May to between sh57, 000 and sh60, 000 in most gas stations.
Nevertheless, the initial purchasing price of gas cylinders (comes with gas) has not changed in many fuel stations save for Oryx that hiked its charges. At Oryx, a 40kilograms cylinder that was sh635, 000 in June now goes for sh683, 000.
Suppliers are attributing the increment of gas prices to forces of demand and supply and the introduction of tax on the product.
John, an attendant in one of the Oryx outlets in Kampala says they were forced to raise the prices the increment of tax on other petroleum products which have contributed to an increase in their cost of operation.
An employee of Total who prefers anonymity attributes the increment to the rising prices of crude oil on the international market, owing to the conflicts in Middle East and northern Africa, areas that account for a half of the global output.
Michael Anguyo, an economist blames the varying prices of gas on the Ugandan market to fluctuation of the shilling against the dollar, saying some suppliers purchase crude when the shilling is strong, while others procure the raw material when the Ugandan currency is weak.
Betty Nayah Kobere, another standards officer at UNBS says consumers who are not satisfied with cooking gas supplied to them should return them to the supplier.
She adds that other than reporting irregularities to the supplier, a consumer can also take their complaint to UNBS which works hand in hand with ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, the leading agency in regulation all petroleum products on the Ugandan market.
“Ministry of Energy has a unit called Petroleum Supply Department unit in place to regulate all petroleum products and ensure they are not only of good quality but also safe for users. UNBS works together with the ministry to ensure that complaints of the LPG consumers are addressed,” says Kobere.
Walakira says anyone found dealing in fake cooking can be brought to book. However, he says cooking gas cannot be easily faked by Ugandan vendors because it is a very high inflammable product.
Walakira has called for the reduction of prices for cooking gas, inlight of scaling up consumption among Ugandans.
“If the costs can be reduced, most people can afford using LGP thus saving our forests instead of continuing to cut down trees for biomass and in the long run, this has its effects like floods, and global warming,” says Walakira.
What to look out for when buying gas
Security and quantity are two major qualities a consumer should look out for when buying cooking gas.
Walakira advises consumers to insist on being given gas cylinders with safety guidelines well designated.
“Security guidelines should be well indicated, clearly written so that consumers are able to see on how to use LPG and avoiding fire outbreaks in homes. There should never be leakages on a gas cylinder, if found, a consumer should take it back and get another one,” says Walakira.
About establishing the right quantity, Kobere advises consumers should use the tare weight method- a system used to establish the weight of a cylinder when it is empty and when it is filled with gas.
“Fuel stations have weighing scales. So, you must make sure that the weight of the empty cylinder and gross weight after filling are noted. The difference between the two weights is the actual quantity of gas in the cylinder,” explains Kobere.
Kobere advised the public against buying gas from the black market, saying the ideal suppliers are the retail petrol stations and some supermarkets.
Preferably, she says a consumer should purchase LPG from the retail petrol stations because they have expertise on petroleum products.
Standards for Gas
As much as Uganda does not have local standards to govern the LPG industry, the country complies with standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Walakira identified these standards include- US 971-4:2014; US ISO 2928:2003; US ISO 1111-1:2012; US ISO 14245:2006; and US ISO 7225:2005.
US 971-4:2014 guides the usage of Liquefied Petroleum Gases for domestic, commercial and industrial purposes.
“This standard specifies the requirements and methods of sampling and test for liquefied petroleum gases. This specification is applicable to products intended for use as domestic, commercial and industrial heating and engine fuels,” says Walakira.
US ISO 2928:2003 is the standard for the rubber hoses and hose assemblies for LPG in the liquid or gaseous phase and natural gas up to 25 bar (2, 5 MPa).
Walakira says this standard specifies requirements for rubber hoses and rubber hose assemblies used for the transfer of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the liquid or gaseous phase and natural gas.
US ISO 11119-1:2012 specifies the standards for refillable composite gas cylinders and tubes- design, construction and testing.
“It specifies requirements for composite gas cylinders and tubes between 0,501 water capacity, for the storage and conveyance of compressed or liquefied gases,” adds Walakira.
US ISO 14245:2006 guides on specifications and testing of LPG cylinder valves, especially on self-closing. It specifies the requirements for design, specification and type testing for dedicated LPG self-closing cylinder valves specifically for use with transportable refillable LPG cylinders.
US ISO 7225: 2005 is the standard that gives guidance on precautionary labels on cylinders. It specifies the design, content (hazard symbols, and text) and application of precautionary labels intended for use on individual gas cylinders containing single gases or gas mixtures.
Walakira nevertheless says other 15 standards on LPG are under development and will be completed and approved by the end of 2014.