Gas lines in Dhaka pose as death risk

Debris scattered after the explosion in Siddique Bazar, Gulistan, Dhaka, on 7 March 2023Prothom Alo

Although the longevity of the pipelines which supply gas to households in the capital city Dhaka was 30 years, these same pipelines are still being used to supply gas even 10 years after the expiry date, officials have said.

So the gas supply pipelines have become risky as leaks are often discovered in the gas supply lines, creating risk of serious accidents.

Even though it is compulsory to check whether there are leaks in the gas pipelines, this matter is not supervised properly. When some connections are permanently disconnected due to negligence, the gas supply is not always halted.

Police investigations into the June 2021 explosion in a building at Maghbazar in the capital city, revealed that the accident occurred due to gas accumulating from a disconnected Titas Gas pipeline.

The police suspect the same cause behind the recent explosions in Science Laboratory intersection and the building in Siddique Bazar. A total of 39 persons died in the explosions at Maghbazar, Science Lab and Siddique Bazar.

The explosion that took place a year and a half ago in a mosque at Narayanganj, killing 34 persons, was also caused due to a leak in the gas pipeline there.

Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution is the country's biggest gas distribution company. It supplies gas to clients in and around Dhaka.

Four high-ranking officers of the company, speaking to Prothom Alo, said Titas is running in a conventional manner. Even if it makes profits, there has been no technological upgrading. Pipelines are not replaced even after the expiry date is crossed. Renovations are carried out only if there is an accident.

Titas pipelines in greater Dhaka and Mymensingh make up 13,320km. Of this, 7000km are in Dhaka. Last financial year Titas carried out a survey on the state of 1,682km of the pipelines.

The survey found methane in 9,926 spots of the pipeline. A total of 459 leaks were discovered and repaired. However, concerned persons say that if the survey covered the entire length of the pipelines, more leaks would have been discovered. And the survey was not conducted in the homes of the clients. There are 2,877,604 gas connections in the areas under Titas. Of these, 2,857,936 are household connections.

On 4 September 2021 in Narayanganj, 34 persons were killed in a fire resulting from an explosion created by leaks in a gas pipeline under a mosque there. After that, Titas said it had discovered 1,622 leaks in the gas supply lines. The leaks were mended. Last financial year, 6,862 complaints were made to Titas' emergency control room, with 4,891 of these complaints being about leaks in the pipeline and 311 about fire-related accidents.

According to Section 5 of the Gas Sales Rule-2014, inspection must be carried out by Titas inspection teams in the residential sector once every two years for clients without metres and once every year for users with metres. But that is never done.

Two officials of Titas said the company does not have adequate inspection teams to regularly visit the clients' homes for inspection. Occasionally the risers are checked, but that too only when any client makes a complaint.

They said that the client owns the pipe which runs from the gas supply riser to inside the house. He also alleged that the clients did not want to cooperate with the Titas teams when they went to any house to inspection the lines.

No automatic leak detection system

Titas began setting up the pipelines in Dhaka back in 1967. Titas pipelines began to spread around Dhaka city after 1980. Certain equipment was used to detect any leaks in the pipelines. The machine was run along the pipelines to detect the leaks.

Two officials of Titas told Prothom Alo, many of those involved in designing the pipelines have now retired. It is hard to even find these old designs. No GIS (Geographic Information System) has been put in place either to locate the Titas pipelines and connections.

Consultants of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have long been calling for a GIS map to be made and even have drawn up a draft guideline. They even talk about a separate department for pipeline protection. Last year this agency, on a test basis, even made a GIS map for 120 km of gas pipeline in the Motijheel and Dhanmondi-Lalmatia zone. Once GIS mapping for the entire pipeline is prepared, this will make it more convenient for the Road and Highways Department or other agencies to carry out their work. As the location of the pipeline is not marked, various agencies damage the pipelines and cause leaks while doing their work.

Also Read

In developed countries, alongside GIS mapping, there is also automatic control in place. This is called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system or SCADA system. This ensures that any leak in the pipeline is automatically located. While for long it has been said that this technology will be introduced in the country, that has not started as yet. Titas Gas officials say that the odorous chemical is still mixed with the gas so that leaks can be detected through the smell of the leaked gas.

Managing director of Titas Gas, Md Harunur Rashid Mollah, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, with proper maintenance, a pipeline can last up to 40 years even.

Replacements are made if any leak is detected. The entire Dhaka-Narayanganj pipeline will be laid anew. He also said that there were regular checks for leaks in the pipeline. Emergency teams respond to any complaints. There are over 2.8 million stoves so it is not possible to go to each house to check these. But illegal connections are being severed regularly.

On 27 June 2021, an explosion took place on the ground floor of a building named 'Rakhi Neer' at Moghbazar.
File photo

Risk of severed connections

The inquiry report regarding the Maghbazar explosion says it was gas from Titas' severed pipeline that had accumulated and caused the explosion which resulted in the death of 12 and injury of over 200. Two agencies of the government feel that the recent explosions at the Science Laboratory intersection and Siddique Bazar were also a result of accumulated gas as in Maghbazar. Titas says it did not find any truth in such allegations and investigations are still on.

Four persons had been killed in the explosion in the three-storey building at the Science Laboratory corner and 24 in the explosion in the seven-storey building at Siddique Bazar.

Certain officials of Titas say that methane is the main component of natural gas. When there is a leak in the pipeline, the methane gas can escape and accumulate in any closed space.

Methane gas can also leak out if gas supply to the severed connection is not shut down properly. When this methane comes into contact with fire or a spark, an explosion may occur. According to the rules, Titas stops gas supply from the rise when a connection is cut. Then a team of contractors appointed by Titas cut the pipeline underground and use a cap to shut down the supply entirely. But, it is alleged, this is not always done.

Big projects for new pipelines

Titas made a profit of Tk 3.18 billion (Tk 318 crore) last fiscal. It deposited around Tk  6.41 billion (Tk 641 crore), in profits, corporate tax, tariff, etc, to the government treasury. Yet last fiscal it laid only 82 km of new pipelines.

Titas has taken up two projects to lay down new pipelines. One is of 185 km from Jaidevpur in Gazipur to Mymensingh. This will entail expenditure of Tk 17.75 billion (Tk 1,775 crore.) Fibre optic cables will be used for automatic detection of leaks in these pipelines. Another project has been taken up to lay new pipelines in 60 areas of Titas' 139 zones in Dhaka and 30 in Narayanganj. This will bring 2,600 km pipeline under the SCADA system and will entail an expenditure of Tk 124.24 billion (Tk 12,424 crore). In the project proposal, Titas has estimated 60 per cent of the cost to be borne by the government and 40 per cent from its own funds. As an alternative, it has also given a proposal for implementing the project under a credit agreement with a contractor. The matter now awaits government approval.

The officers and employees of the organisation cannot simply place the people at death risk because of their negligence and theft. Murder charges should be filed against the officers and employees of Titas in every such accident to ensure justice
M Shamsul Alam, senior vice president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh

Illegal connects increase risks

According to the rules, there can be no gas connections in the basement of any building. Two agencies of the government found abandoned gas connections of Titas in the basement of the Siddique Bazar building. With the crisis of gas increasing, residential gas connections were stopped from 2010. The matter was relaxed for some time, but then completely halted again in 2015. Taking advantage of this situation, certain unscrupulous officers and registered contractors of Titas Gas created a syndicate for proving illegal gas connections in various locations. Titas also has information of illegal connections being given in Narayanganj under political influence.

Titas has been running a drive to remove all illegal connections over the past two years. In the last financial year, 288 drives took place, 340km of gas pipelines were removed and connections with 274,000 stoves were severed. But this did not stop the illegal connections. And there is no quality control for these illegal pipeline connections, creating further risk.

Senior vice president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh and energy expert M Shamsul Alam told Prothom Alo, Titas does not carry out any responsibility towards the consumers. One accident is taking place after the other. Gas is being wasted through leaks. The officers and employees of the organisation cannot simply place the people at death risk because of their negligence and theft. Murder charges should be filed against the officers and employees of Titas in every such accident to ensure justice.