Taking advantage of its location, Kiambu County has become the perfect place for illegal gas refilling plants.
The proximity to the city has seen Kiambu host close to a third of illegal gas plants recommended for closure in December 2015.
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), in a recent letter to Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet expressed frustration that the factories were running despite having been closed.
“The commission has information that some operators of illegal LPG facilities have restarted cylinder filling. They do so in the wee hours of the morning, which poses even bigger danger, considering the insufficient emergency support during those hours,” reads the letter by ERC Director-General Joseph Ng’ang’a.
“Continued operation of these facilities poses a danger to public safety and national security.”
Annexed to the letter were names and locations of the 26 illicit plants. Six are in Nairobi. A visit to some of the factories shows business is on.
ERC could not tell which ones are licensed. Sources tell us some regulatory officials and police officers have been compromised.
Our first stop is Mombasa Road. The plant mentioned in the letter is, ironically, opposite Imara Daima Total petrol station.
A rough road stretches after the pedestrian bridge and turns right about 100 metres from the highway. Ahead is a rusty gate and a wall around a compound that leaves one with the impression it is abandoned.
A guard says the place is only open between 3am and 4am. “It is locked all the time except when policemen visit. Those are stolen cylinders so how did you expect to be allowed in?” he asks.
Anyone heading in that direction is suspected and trailed. A man at the gate accuses us of trespassing.
“There is no business going on inside. May I know how you found your way here?” he asks.
On the Eastern bypass, we find three other illegal plants near Kentainers Ltd. One is near Total station near Nyayo Estate, just blocks from the Embakasi Police Station.
The road in front of Kentainers gate, terminating at Pipeline Estate, has three illegal plants.
The first one has a wall around it and an unmarked grey gate. The other, with a reddish brown gate, sits opposite.
From outside, one can see the top of a huge gas tank. Outside the wall is an old tank covered with a green canvas. This depot is next to a power transformer.
Then the gate opens and a white LPG tank truck reverses onto the road. As the gate is open, one can see cylinders being loaded in cars for distribution.
The lorry moves to the other gate to deliver supplies before being driven away.
This road is lined with crowded flats, a nursery school, godowns and several businesses. We stop a dealer who has just bought stock. She refuses to talk.
A few metres ahead is another plant identified by the ERC as Richwell General Merchants. Nobody is willing to lead us to the factory but we find a gas tanktainer on the road near a yellowish gate.
Though ERC says such plants should not be near residential areas, we find one of the licensed traders identified as Green Energy Ltd sharing a wall with Christ Embassy Church and several residential blocks in Eastlands. Behind it is a bar.
“These plants are high risk. They are not licensed so they contravene the law,” PIEA General Manager Wanjiku Manyara told the Nation.
But ERC says it is the public which should report factories in residential areas.
“ERC maintains confidentiality on reports so the public should not fear,” said acting Director of Petroleum Edward Kinyua.
Next to Sinai slums, where an oil pipeline explosion killed more than 70 in 2011, we find another plant behind the National Cereals and Produce Board depot.
Ndenderu plant in Kiambu, where an explosion killed its owner several days ago, is also listed. Others are in Ruiru behind Clay Products, and at Waki Stage.
Thika has one depot near Umoja just past BAT and another one on Garissa Road, opposite Bidco Africa refineries.
In Nakuru, ERC has identified one near Gilanis warehouse and two others in Industrial area.
Mombasa has two plants near Kensalt in Changamwe and another in Miritini.
In Karatina, there is one near the general hospital and another three kilometres on the Mukurweini road.