Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

LPG Gas Cylinders, Regulators and Safety

"An Explosive Issue"

Gas Safety

Concerns for Gas Safety in Indonesia

For many years Indonesia's national petroleum company Pertamina has supplied subsidised fuel for Indonesia's people. Brought in by the Suharto government in a time of oil production surplus petrol, diesel and kerosene received heavy subsidies to keep down transport, food and cooking fuel costs for a population with substantial levels of poverty.

In recent times financial constraints combined with the increasing volume and price of oil that has to be imported each year has lead to a progressive removal of subsidies. Prices of petrol and diesel fuel have been progressively increased. To address a difficult issue of expensive subsidies for kerosene that was used for cooking by a large proportion of Indonesia's population, Pertamina decided to phase out kerosene and replace it with LPG (liquified petroleum gas).

In May 2007 a programme was started to issue free gas cylinders and cooking stoves to poor households all across Indonesia. The free cylinders are supplied and refilled by PLN and the gas is subsidised. The programme was due to be completed by the end of 2010.

However problems started to occur fairly early on with fires and explosions caused by the PLN issued gas equipment. The situation progressively worsened as the programme advanced and reached national crisis levels.

A study by the National Consumer Protection Agency revealed that by the end of May 2010 there had been 95 explosions, 22 deaths, 131 people hospitalised and 55 houses damaged as a result of problems with the new stoves. We can assume that these are only the ones known about and that there could well be many more.

We can assume that some of these incidents were probably caused by people unfamiliar with gas stoves making mistakes while connecting regulators to cylinders.

However…..

The study also checked equipment and found that 100% of hoses, 65% of cylinder check valves, 50% of stoves, 20% of regulators and 7% of gas cylinders issued in the programme did not meet Indonesian safety standards.

Particularly worrying faults were found including leaks through the welded joints of the cylinders, leaks where the check valves are screwed into the cylinders, check valves that do not fit the regulators properly and hoses that are substandard and only have a life expectancy of 1 to 2 years.

By the end of May 2010 Pertamina had distributed 44.8 million sets of gas equipment (770,000 of which went to Bali) almost all of which were imported from China. A further 16 million were distributed outside Pertamina's supply chain and so were not registered and had no Pertamina quality control applied.

Pertamina is Carrying Out Rigorous Checking

Pertamina introduced rigorous checking of cylinders when they are returned for refilling and are withdrawing any illegal substandard ones they find however this effort is being hindered by private operations outside their control.

In some cases private "distributors" have been tampering with the check valves so they fill cylinders themselves and, more worryingly, can mix other substances with the gas to increase their profits.

There are rampant private operations across the country that are decanting subsidised gas from the 3 kg light green cylinders (Rp15,000 each) to non subsidised 12 kg blue cylinders (Rp 120,000 each). By doing this they can make healthy profits of around Rp60,000 per 12kg cylinder.

Let us now look at the components of the gas system and things we should look out for. It should be remembered that while we may have bought the very latest in German kitchen finery that beautiful precision made piece of equipment is still connected to a gas cylinder and regulator bought down at the local warung - origin unknown!!

Gas, as we all know, can be very dangerous and a terrible way to die. It does not normally smell, the smell is in fact added to gas before it is sold so that people will be warned if there is a gas leak. Unfortunately the gas we buy in Indonesia doesn't seem to have as much smell as perhaps it could and is not unpleasant enough to immediately attract our attention.

The report that unscrupulous people are mixing other substances with the gas to increase profits is of concern and raises the question of what these substances might be.

Components of a LPG gas installation

Gas Cylinder

Gas cylinders come in various sizes, large blue 50kgs, standard blue 12 kgs and the new small, light green 3 kgs. Cylinders are made by stamping out 2 half bowls which are then welded around the middle to join them together. A strong steel threaded pipe is welded into one end to form the neck into which a brass check valve is screwed. A handle/protection ring and a foot ring are welded to the top and bottom of the cylinder.

Blue cylinders are, we understand, alright, the substandard ones are light green 3 kg ones. Faults reported in these cylinders are poor standard of welding around the waist and the neck of the cylinders which allows gas to leak out.

It is important to remember that gas cylinders are pressure vessels with a high internal pressure. Around the world such cylinders are usually rigidly quality controlled and are made of higher strength boiler grade steel. Judging from the rusting often seen on the 3kg cylinders it appears that ordinary mild steel has been used to make them.

Look for excessive rust or badly formed welded joints on cylinders before you accept them.

Check valve

The check valve is a brass valve that is screwed into the neck of the cylinder. The valve seals the gas into the cylinder and has a pin in the centre. When this pin is pressed down the valve is opened to release the gas. Faults in these check valves include badly fitting screw threads or poor standard of seals in the valve itself which allow gas to leak out.

Check the screw thread of the valve, it should be a tight fit in the cylinder. The valve has a smooth lip around its top edge and a hole with a rubber seal around the inside into which the regulator has to fit. The top lip of the valve body should be in good condition. No gas should be coming from the valve around the pin.

It is imperative that the rubber seal is in good condition. Carefully inspect it and if in doubt replace it with a new one.

Regulator

The regulator is a circular metal device that fits onto the top of the cylinder check valve. Its job is to reduce the high pressure of the gas from the cylinder to a much lower pressure before releasing it down the rubber hose to your appliance. The regulator has a tube cast into the bottom which fits into the hole in the top of the cylinder check valve.

A brass tube sticking out of the side of the regulator is attached to the rubber gas hose which should have a hose clip to secure the hose onto the regulator and prevent leakage.

Regulators also usually have a safety switch on one side which, when turned, locks the regulator onto the top of the check valve and, at the same time, pushes a pin in the centre of the regulator down into the check valve to release the flow of high pressure gas into the regulator. As the regulator is installed it seals against the rubber ring in the top of the check valve.

Regulators can be faulty and need to be checked and replaced if any leaks are detected.

Under normal circumstances the fitting of regulators to gas cylinders is the major source of leakage in household gas usage. It is important to check for leaks once fitted. Make sure there is no smell of gas and no signs of a hissing noise. If you put your ear to the top of the regulator you can often hear a hissing noise if it is leaking.

In many households it is often the pembantu that carries out this task and the chances that she has a masters degree in gas engineering are somewhat remote. It is probably a good idea to give her clear instructions how to change the gas cylinder and you could perhaps check her work from time to time. Make sure you always have a stock of new rubber seals on hand.

Gas hose

Good quality hoses are usually thick rubber with a woven canvas strengthening layer built into them. Some better quality hoses have a spiral metal cover to protect the rubber underneath. If the hose is of poor quality the rubber can quickly perish and leak. Avoid thin or plastic hoses.

Also if you take the hose off and then install it again the inside of the end of the hose may be damaged. It is a good idea to cut off the end of the hose so a fresh piece without damage to the inside is being fitted to the appliance or regulator. Make sure you use a hose clip on the end of the hose and that it is screwed up tight enough but not too tight.

Check the hose from time to time, if it deteriorates you will see cracks in the rubber. If you do find any cracks or bulging replace the hose.

Cooker, barbeque, gas fired wart remover or whatever

Most gas appliances have a brass pipe to attach the hose, this should use a hose clip. The brass pipe then feeds to a valve (a gas tap) of some kind, in the case of a cooker this is a valve behind the on off knob you use to turn each gas ring or the oven on and off. These valves are the part of the appliance most vulnerable to leaks. Each valve has a small rubber "O" ring inside to seal it. If the valve is badly made or the seal is damaged the valve can leak.

Once again smell for gas and listen for hissing noises to warn of gas leaks.

When looking for leaks in the system you can always use the sophisticated method used by gas technical experts around the world - aqua bubblius. Put soapy water (or perhaps some spit) on areas you suspect there may be a leak and look for bubbles.

Sadly this whole situation will have ongoing consequences.

Safety precautions when using gas cylinders and regulators:

  • Never keep gas cylinders in an enclosed space, they should be in well ventilated spaces or, better still, outside.
  • If your cooker has a cupboard for a cylinder either built into it or underneath it, do not use that cupboard. The cylinder and regulator should be kept well away from any naked flames.
  • Avoid using the green 3 kg gas cylinders and any of the equipment supplied with them.
  • Carefully check cylinders, regulators, hoses and appliances regularly.
  • When buying gas cylinders check them carefully and make sure their seals look authentic and are intact. The welded joints and check valves should all be in good condition.
  • It may not be easy but try and check the weight of cylinders to make sure they are full.
  • Look for the SNI (the standards of Indonesia marking) stamped on cylinders or on product packaging to indicate compliance. Of course in Indonesia these can be faked but look for it anyway.

In the meantime the subsidised gas debacle continues and with such a large quantity of sub standard and dangerous equipment released into the market we can only assume that tragedies are going to continue.

Pertamina are under pressure but they are saying they do not have a budget to pay for recalling and replacing faulty equipment. In addition if equipment is recalled and exchanged it could well be that the PAG (poverty alleviation gene) will kick in and some of the faulty items may well find their way back into circulation.

Take care.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

17 July 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
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