The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) has expressed concern at the mushrooming of roadside and backyard Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LP gas) filling posts, saying they should be regularised to avoid mishaps.
This comes amid a surge in LP gas-related accidents, with Zera saying consumption of gas is set to double by the end of the year due to increased demand caused by electricity shortages being experienced in the country.
The energy regulator says it is finalising modalities for regulation of the sector which is fast gaining popularity as an alternative energy source for household and industrial use across the country. Gas' volatile nature and improper handling has resulted in explosions, leading to loss of property and life.
At least 20 million kilogrammes of gas have been used so far, with projections of consumption doubling by the end of the year. ZERA head of petroleum department Engineer Andrew Guri said demand for LP gas was increasing, but per capita use remained about three kilogrammes.
"We have a challenge of unlicensed filling of LP gas cylinders," he said. "We are fine-tuning regulations which will lead to a blitz on such practices. We will be carrying out the blitz as ZERA, with other bodies including the Environmental Management Authority, local authorities and their fire brigades."
The blitz, he said, would also target unlicensed wholesalers of LP gas who do not meet the set criteria which includes having their own gas cylinders. There has been at least 14 accidents involving mishandling of gas since 2014 with five of them occurring this year alone.
Eng Guri said gas cylinders should be repaired and revalidated after every 10 years to ensure safety. He said there was higher demand for LP gas than what was being supplied owing to foreign currency constraints. He said the rate of uptake and growth in use of gas was significantly lower than in other countries where capita use was around 10 kilogrammes.
Widespread use of the fuel, he said, had presented challenges in enforcing safety compliance. There are about 90 licensed operators in the trade of LP gas.
There are plans to regulate the price of gas which has been left to operators to determine. Gas is retailing at between $15 and $20 per kg, amid concerns over the quality being sold by roadside and backyard operators, which is used up at a faster rate than that from reputable suppliers.
Gas is expected to alleviate pressure on the environment as people are now resorting to use of firewood for heating.