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Initial probe blames GAIL for fire, two suspended

Villagers have alleged that they had complained about foul smell of gas emanating from the pipeline ahead of Friday’s incident but no effort was made to plug the leak.

Written by Amitav Ranjan | New Delhi | Published: June 30, 2014 2:37:33 am
Initial findings show pipeline had corroded. Initial findings show pipeline had corroded.

The Petroleum Ministry on Sunday blamed the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) for last Friday’s fire in Andhra Pradesh, in which 19 people were killed, after initial findings established a serious lapse by the state-run gas transporter. It pressed GAIL to suspend officials responsible for the safety of the pipeline passing through the populated area.

By afternoon, GAIL suspended General Manager Pankaj Patel and Deputy General Manager Rakesh Kumar. “Pending the outcome of the inquiry set up by the government as well as the company, two senior officials in charge of regional operations and maintenance of the pipeline network have been suspended,” GAIL said in a statement without naming the officials.

Preliminary findings by the government team showed that the Tatipaka-Kondapalli pipeline had corroded, for the fourth time this year, and the leak was caused by condensate and water in the gas supplied by ONGC, which should have been completely stripped by GAIL at their Nagaram facility.

Under a 2006 agreement between ONGC and GAIL, the latter is responsible for removing condensate and water, which corrode the pipeline because of high presence of sulphur. “Apparently this was not being done fully and the high pressure gas forced a leak in the pipeline from which condensate trickled out and created a pool,” said a source privy to the inquiry proceedings.

A massive fire was triggered after a tea vendor lit up a stove in the vicinity of the leak, scorching everything in a radius of about half a km, including houses and vehicles, in Nagaram village of East Godavari district.

Sources said the frequent failings was known to GAIL officials as reports generated after intelligent pigging — a cleaning exercise — of the pipeline in 2010 and 2013 had indicated that “corrosion inhibitors” were required to be pumped to avoid further rust.  “Three leaks were reported this year before the incident and a private contractor was handed the annual maintenance contract for the patchwork,” said a source. Villagers have alleged that they had complained about foul smell of gas emanating from the pipeline ahead of Friday’s incident but no effort was made to plug the leak.

The inquiry, headed by Joint Secretary (Refineries) Rajesh Kumar Singh, is also looking at the shoddy execution of recent GAIL pipelines with a comparison to the HBJ gas pipeline that was commissioned in 1997 but continues to be incident free.  GAIL said its Internal Audit Group shall undertake audits to thoroughly check the various pipeline systems across the country and submit a detailed report within a fortnight.

The state-run company has constituted an internal inquiry committee headed by its executive director (operations and maintenance) and would engage an international consultant to conduct an intensive third-party audit of its pipeline safety systems and other hydrocarbon installations.

Andhra Police have filed a case against GAIL under sections 304A (causing death by negligence), 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 286 (negligent conduct with respect to explosive substance) of the Indian Penal Code.

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