The government has approved new laws banning oil marketers from accepting gas cylinders from rival brands during refills.
The new Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) regulations that the Energy ministry unveiled on Tuesday are meant to restore safety by minimising opportunities for illegal refilling, illegal rebranding, and counterfeiting of gas cylinders.
This means Kenyans will no longer be able to exchange their cylinders for different brands at their local dealerships.
Mr Pavel Oimeke, Director-General of the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, said the new rules "attack the counterfeit market" and create safety guarantees to draw consumers off use of firewood.
He noted that firewood use drives the state of respiratory diseases as Kenya’s biggest killers.
With the new laws, he said, it will no longer be mandatory for LPG retailers to swap any brand of cylinders.
"The mandatory interchange of LPG cylinders has seen brands lose track of 90 per cent of the cylinders they had invested in, stalling investment in further cylinders, and seeing legal checks set aside as nameless refillers resold cylinders, but could not be made accountable for safety breaches,” he said.
The law also places additional responsibility on LPG brands in terms of guaranteeing the safety of every cylinder.
“The brands, which will only swap their cylinders for new ones through their own branded retail points, must also now add safety instructions onto each cylinder, including guides on what to do if consumers smell a gas leak,” said Mr Oimeke.
The changes are part of a government drive to position LPG as Kenya’s primary cooking fuel to end the health and environmental problems that result from cooking using firewood and charcoal.
Mr Olagoke Aluko, chairman of the Petroleum Institute of East Africa (PIEA) noted that, “Elsewhere in the world, LPG dominates in rural areas as a clean and safe fuel. Moving to regulations that will see the end of illegal cylinder refilling in Kenya will open the way for a projected seven-fold increase in LPG usage."
The PIEA, which represents the country’s oil and gas industry, is now working with government and regulators to achieve a widespread switchover to LPG, at a time when more than 70 per cent of Kenyans are still using firewood and charcoal for cooking.
The institute said it will no longer accommodate gas cylinders that are not properly checked between refills and are not fully labelled for safety and traceability.
“The pollution that dirty cooking fuels are creating in the home is killing tens of thousands of Kenyans a year,” said Mr Aluko.
“Estimates suggest some 21,650 Kenyans die every year from air pollution, and 40 per cent of childhood deaths are being caused by respiratory diseases triggered by indoor cooking pollution.”
The country’s dependency on firewood and charcoal, which has remained larger than in other countries in Africa as a result of disorder in the Kenyan LPG market, has caused severe destruction of forests.
Illegal logging has damaged the main water catchment areas and seen the country suffer a shortfall in its wood supply each year.