Is it a 'low' risk?
Residents living near gas pipelines fear harm from leaks and explosions because of old pipes, lack of detailsResidents with homes near gas pipelines in Bangkok and other regions say they live in fear of gas leaks, explosions and other fatal accidents following a series of incidents recently. They claim gas leaks are happening more often and that pipelines, some of them laid 32 years ago, were not installed in accordance with international safety standards.
An offshore natural gas pipeline in the Gulf of Thailand leaked on June 25 last year off the coast of southern Surat Thani province, causing the loss of 600 million cubic feet of gas per day.
Meanwhile, a gas pipeline at Rojana Industrial Park in Uthai district in Ayutthaya leaked in August, prompting the evacuation of people in the vicinity. The leak was caused by a water pipe collapsing on to the gas pipeline's foundation following heavy rain. There were no sparks and no casualties reported.
The incidents have caused alarm among residents living near gas pipelines that total 4,056 km in length and pass parts of Samut Prakan, Chachoengsao, Nakhon Nayok, Prachin Buri and Sa Kaeo.
Three major gas pipelines were installed by PTT from the Gulf of Thailand parallel to highways 36, 7 and 3138. The pipelines branch off to different roads to industrial estates, factories and power plants.
One major pipeline runs along highway number 7 and 34 to distribute gas to Bangkok, Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya and Sara Buri.
Another runs in parallel to Sukhumvit, Theparak roads to reach Bang Pu industrial estate and around Suvarnabhumi airport.
And a big gas pipeline is under construction along highways 331, 304 and 33 (Rayong-Kaengkoi).
Sarayuth Sonraksa, from the Council of the Bang Pakong River Basin, said they would give out information provided by the Interior Ministry on gas pipeline risk zones so people are aware of the danger and don't build or carry out activities that might damage the pipelines.
"Some communities don't know there are gas pipelines that run underground in front of their houses."
He said the National Association of State Fire Marshals recommend a residential safety area be 1.6km to 2 km from gas pipelines and pipes should be laid 3.5m underground. A safety valve to prevent leakage should be installed every 3km outside community areas and every 1km in community areas. Gas pipeline signs should be put up at regular distances.
Sarayuth said the PTT laid its pipelines only 1.5 metres deep underground and installed safety valves too far apart, at 8km in community areas. This was not in accordance with international safety standards.
"I am not sure if the PTT wanted to save costs but it is really unsafe for people who live near the pipelines. This should be corrected to prevent tragedies."
He said it was difficult to access information on routes planned for the laying of gas pipelines. "When agencies are reluctant to provide this information, I feel the company is concealing safety information from the public."
Udom Wongsri, a trader whose shop is on the gas pipeline from Rayong to Kaengkoi, said many people were not asked or informed about pipelines before they were constructed. And it was too difficult to fight a project once construction had started. "I can only hope they maintain the pipelines so that there is no accident," she said.
Kesorn Sawadikul, an Ayutthaya resident, said communities must have full disclosure of information of all gas pipeline routes for the sake of public safety.
Nikom Malaisri, Wangnoi Subdistrict Administrative Organisation chief administrator, said concerned agencies failed to live up to their promises. "Having gas pipelines benefits the majority of Thais, but people who are adversely affected should be given fair compensation," he said.
PTT public relations manager Piyasak Tonyongmassakul defended the company's safety standards on installation of gas pipelines, saying the company had received an international fourth place-award in terms of gas pipeline installation safety.
The major control centre in Chon Buri had four officials working around the clock to monitor leakage. The company took 12 hours to fix a pipeline leak in 2005 in Rangsit, caused by a puncture of a foundation pillar, and five hours to fix a leak in Ayutthaya.
PTT had followed the US' safety standards, which have safety valves every 8km in a community area, 16km in medium congested areas and 32km in forests or rice fields. Inspections of internal pipelines were carried out every five years. All pipelines were found to be in good condition. Gas pipes have a working life of 40 years and the company may continue to use the first pipeline laid 32 years ago if it passes tests after 40 years of use.
He said the cost of having one station and one safety block valve had reached Bt30 million. Having fewer block valves not only cut costs but gas could be distributed faster. "Having a safety block valve at every 3km in sub-pipelines would increase costs but if there is a public concern on safety issues, it may be necessary," Piyasak said.
He said explosions which had happened abroad were a either a combination of a large leak and/or fire ignition. He said PTT had never experienced a gas explosion and once a fire gushed 4 metres in the air after a leak near a neon light with electricity sparks in Sara Buri's Nong Kae District. But there were no casualties because officials rushed to the scene and fixed the problem quickly.
He said the company installed the pipe 1.5m underground instead of 3.5m because it believed risks of explosion were not high. "In Egypt for instance, RPG rockets were fired at the pipelines. If this was the case in Thailand, block valves would be activated and gas leaks would stop," he said.
Most gas explosions in Thailand happened at gas service stations and not on pipelines.
A leak on an offshore natural gas pipeline last year was caused by a ship's anchor tangling a pipeline. When the anchor was pulled up, the pipeline broke. PTT is also working how to prevent a similar incident to the one that took place at Rojana Industrial Park.
He said PTT has third-party insurance with Bt1.5 billion coverage in case of disasters, accidents or explosions.
At a glance
Pipeline disasters over the past 20 years
_ A petroleum pipeline exploded in 1998, killing about 1,200 villagers, some of whom were scavenging for gasoline - the worst of several similar incidents in this country.
_ A gas explosion occurred in ljegun in 2008 after a bulldozer struck an oil pipeline. The Nigerian Red Cross claims at least 100 people died.
_ A vandalised oil pipeline exploded in Lagos. Up to 500 people were thought to have been killed in 2006.
_ Another pipeline explosion near the town of Jesse killed about 250 villagers in 2000.
_ At least 100 villagers died when a ruptured pipeline exploded in Warri in 2000.
_ A leaking pipeline caught fire near the fishing village of Ebute near Lagos, killing at least 60 people in 2000.
_ Sparks from two passing trains detonated gas that was leaking from an LPG pipeline near Ufa. Workers at the pipeline noticed a pressure drop in the line, but they increased pressure instead of searching for any leak. Trees up to 4 kilometers away were felled by the blast, which also derailed two locomotives and 38 passenger cars on the trains. Up to 645 people were reported killed in the June 4, 1989, incident.
The United States
_ Since 2001, natural gas pipeline explosions and other accidents have resulted in the loss of at least 45 lives and many more serious injuries, usually from burns. There may be additional accidents, deaths and injuries that are not known.
_ A Nairobi pipeline fire killed approximately 100 people and hospitalised 120 in 2011.
_ An explosion at a Petroleos Mexicanos oil pipeline in central Mexico on December 19, 2010, killed at least 27 people and injured more than 50. The explosion is believed to have been caused by attempts to puncture the pipe to steal oil.
_ A major natural gas pipeline exploded in Ghislenghien, Belgium, killing 24 people and leaving 122 wounded, some critically, on July 30, 2004.