On October 7th at 7:30 pm local time, a fiery ball of gas lit up the skies of Atomic Junction, a key crossroads in a populated suburb of Ghana’s capital city, Accra. The blast occurred when a state-owned liquid natural gas tanker leaked (LNG) and spread to a Total petrol station across the road. The explosion has left an estimated 7 dead and another 132 injured with many reporting burns resulting from the scorching heat emitted from by the explosion and engulfing flames. The explosion is said to have damaged facilities on Ghana’s main university campus in Legon.

History Repeats Itself

The memory of the devastation caused by LNG explosions is fresh in the minds of Ghanaians. It has been just over two years since the last, major explosion rocked the nation’s capital on June 4th, 2015, leaving over 100 dead and hundreds more injuredA series of factors contributed to a larger death toll in the 2015 incident when compared to the more recent even this past month. In the 2015 explosion, many citizens have taken to the petrol station that would be the source of the explosion in search of shelter from Ghana’s flood rains. Further, in the days preceding the explosion, the rains had distributed a thin layer of LNG that floated atop the water. The flammable gas enabled the rapid spread of a lasting fire that engulfed buses holding hundreds of citizens, bystanders, homes, and businesses. Many citizens at the scene of the 2015 explosion remarked that “the water was on fire”. Due to the chemical properties that occur when LNG meets water, this assessment could not be more accurate. While the June 2015 explosion had a higher toll on the nation’s capital in terms of lives lost due to the rainy season, the more recent explosion provides the evidence necessary to determine that safety practices remain little changed. Bearing randomness of weather events in mind, both the explosions over the past two years have also occurred in suburbs that are densely populated and highly urbanized, meaning that even tanks in the most populous of areas are not safe. This leaves citizens in a constant state of fear that another gas explosion could take their lives, livelihoods, or loved ones at any time or place in Accra.

A missed opportunity

The repeated occurrence of such explosions within a short time frame should raise a warning signal to key policymakers. Given the recent devastation that the June 2015 blast left in the minds of citizens and policymakers alike, greater attention should have been raised to governing the precarious state of LNG gas tanks in the city. Prior investment in preventative action on the part of the government, such as inspection of LNG tanks, could have been administered to effectively avoid the second blast in October. The blast, which caused loss of life and rendered many citizens injured and forced to bear the costs of medical care, could be attributed to continued misallocation of national funds. The IMF reflected upon the 2015 gas explosion as a critical consequence of undisciplined spending as LNG gas tanks and distribution systems are state-owned in Ghana. Broadly, the lesson provided by the 2015 LNG explosion was a missed opportunity in preventing the recent explosion a mere two years later.

How can future policy provide solutions?

The explosions demand that policy is merited to improve the safety of LNG gas tanks and should be instated with haste. Schedules and constant inspection efforts that involve monitoring and replacing of tanks when necessary should be implemented immediately to prevent another explosion from occurring. As gas tanks and LNG distribution channels are currently state-owned, such policy could be enshrined in law with little negotiation effort. This effort could: stimulate investment, create employment opportunities and promote a safer existence for citizens in their everyday lives, devoid of random explosions. In the meantime, Ghanaians tread lightly around LNG facilities and gas station in fear of explosions. Hopefully, the October 2017 LNG explosion will place further pressure on the government to create long-lasting, structural shifts to the way that tanks are monitored, restored, and replaced.  

Article written by Kathleen JACK

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References 

1 “Gas station explosion shakes Ghana’s capital”. The Guardian. October 17, 2017.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/07/petrol-station- explosion-ghana- accra-fireball

2 “Ghana: Gas depot blasts kill at least seven in Accra”. Al Jazeera. October 8, 2017.
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/blast-gas- station-rocks- ghana-capital- accra-171007211009348.html

3 “Ghana: Gas depot blasts kill at least seven in Accra”. Al Jazeera. October 8, 2017.
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/blast-gas- station-rocks- ghana-capital- accra-171007211009348.html

4 “Gas Station Explosion in Ghana Kills at Least 7 and Injures over 100”. The Ney York Times. October 7, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/07/world/africa/ghana-explosion- gas.html

5 “Gas Station Explosion in Ghana’s Capital Kills Around 100”. The New York Times. June 7, 2015.  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/05/world/africa/ghana-accra- gas-station- explosion-flooding.htmlaction=click&contentCollection=Africa&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

6 “Explosion rips through Ghanaian petrol station killing at least 150 people after floodwater washes fuel into a fire while the victims were sheltering from torrential rain”. The Daily Mail. June 5, 2015.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3110774/Explosion- rips-Ghanaian- petrol-station- killing-70- people-floodwater-washes- fuel-fire- victims-sheltering- torrential-rain.html

7 “Explosion rips through Ghanaian petrol station killing at least 150 people after floodwater washes fuel into a fire while the victims were sheltering from torrential rain”. The Daily Mail. June 5, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3110774/Explosion- rips-Ghanaian- petrol-station- killing-70- people- floodwater-washes- fuel-fire- victims-sheltering- torrential-rain.html

8 “Gas Station Explosion in Ghana’s Capital Kills Around 100”. The New York Times. June 7, 2015.
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flooding.html,action=click&contentCollection=Africa&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

9 “Gas Station Explosion in Ghana’s Capital Kills Around 100”. The New York Times. June 7, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/05/world/africa/ghana-accra- gas-station- explosion-flooding.html,action=click&contentCollection=Africa&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

10 “Ghana, Equatorial Guinea presidents to sign LNG deal”. CNBC. August 21, 2017.
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11 “Gas Station Explosion in Ghana Kills at Least 7 and Injures over 100”. The New York Times. October 7, 2017.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/07/world/africa/ghana-explosion- gas.html

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