Blame game over Embakasi blast rocks crucial state agencies

Nema, Nairobi county, security agencies and EPRA are among agencies wrangling over the incident

In Summary

• On February 1, a tanker exploded in Embakasi, leading to the loss of seven lives.

• More than 200 others were admitted to hospital with burns.

Police officers secure the scene as detectives launch investigations into the gas explosion in Embakasi, Nairobi county, on February 2, 2024.
Police officers secure the scene as detectives launch investigations into the gas explosion in Embakasi, Nairobi county, on February 2, 2024.

Blame games and finger pointing have rocked key state agencies, days after a gas explosion at Embakasi’s Mradi estate, resulting in the death of seven people.

More than 200 others were admitted to hospital with burns after the February 1 tragedy. 

A number of people have been arrested in connection with the blast.

The National Environment Management Authority has clarified that a gas tanker exploded and not a gas filling station.

According to the authority, tankers are licensed by Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, which tracks their movement from where they are loaded to where they are supposed to offload.

The Petroleum Institute of Africa (PIEA) after visiting the site of the explosion established that four years ago, a criminal case had been instituted against the proprietor of the facility.

The institute says the proprietor and some of his clients were rounded up on November 9, 2020, under criminal case number E3776/2020 at Milimani law courts in Nairobi. The accused person were found guilty and fined on May 18, 2023.

Petroleum Institute of Africa general manager Wanjiku Manyara said the explosion occurred in a residential area, which violates the Petroleum Act 2019 LPG Regulations Legal Notice 100.

Nema alleges that EPRA and PIEA knew of the existence of the illegal site and they should have monitored it and taken action.

It says a nearby police station ought to have been aware of the illegal activities taking place in the establishment.

Nema says the site where the blast occurred functioned as a garage.

As such, it must have been licensed by the county government through a business permit.

Nema says it once it received an EIA reports, which it shared with line agencies for comments as stipulated under the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA).

It says that after the EIA licence was issued, Maxxis applied for EPRAs approvals but was denied and he has on record admitted that he did not construct the 10 metric LPG storage and filling plant.

And since the project was not implemented, Nema says its EIA licence was null and void.

It, however, remains unclear why Nema asked its officials to step aside.

The four include the director of environmental compliance, acting deputy director compliance, senior environmental officer in the environmental impact assessment section and head of environmental impact assessment in the EAI section.

It says since the project did not take off, it has no role in whatever activities were going on at the site.

Nema also says security agencies in the blast site ought to have taken action on the illegal gas filling tankers that endangered lives.      

EPRA had said they received applications for construction permits for LPG storage and filling plant on March 19, June 20 and July 31, 2023.

It said all applications were rejected as they did not meet the set criteria for LPG storage and filling plant in that area.

“The main reason for the rejection was failure of the designs to meet the safety distances stipulated in the Kenya standards,” EPRA said.

EPRA said the applicant did not provide a qualitative risk assessment.

“As the regulator, we have formulated short and medium-term measures to ensure safety of all LPG plants in the country is guaranteed. This is through actions such as undertaking detailed technical audits of all licensed LPG plants in the country, with the objective of ensuring high safety integrity status in terms of health, safety, security and environment,” EPRA said.

EPRA said administrative actions are always taken to ensure operating licenses for all plants rated below the high safety integrity status are revoked.

It said surveillance and enforcement actions are taken to include demolition of illegal plants.

Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja has ordered closure of gas businesses in residential estates.

He warned subcounty administrators against allowing such operations.

"I have directed all the 17 subcounty administration officers to ensure all gas businesses operating within residential areas are closed with immediate effect," Sakaja said.

The push and pull between agencies has attracted the attention of professionals in the environment sector, who have slammed key state agencies for failing to do their work in a collaborative and coordinated manner.

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