Safety in the pipeline

Gail has adopted trenchless Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) method to lay gas pipelines wherever feasible in the city.

Nothing like Piped Natural Gas (PNG) to score a safety point over the LPG cylinders… Sparing no effort in driving home this advantage, the Gas Authority of India Limited (Gail) appeared to win the battle of perceptions. But did that image take a hit with the accidental leakage in October?

For the record, the accident was established as entirely of the Metro’s making. A Gail spokesperson hastens to add that since PNG is lighter than air, the gas dispersed and there was no safety issue at all. The entire leakage could have been avoided if the Metro had informed the gas authority in advance.

Low gas pressure

Gail’s trunk pipeline ferries the gas at a high pressure of 80-90 bar. But once it enters Bengaluru city, the pressure is reduced to 19 bar. “When the gas reaches the kitchen, the pressure is as low as 21 millibar. The risk of any incident reduces drastically,” the spokesperson explains.

Yet, this low risk profile has not pushed connectivity to a large scale. Despite years of infrastructure build-up and awareness creation, only about 9,500 households use PNG in the city. Besides, the risk of another accidental leakage remains high, since inter-agency coordination is a non-starter in the city.

But Gail’s subsidiary, GAIL Gas Ltd (GGL) is optimistic about the future. No issues have emerged from areas such as HSR Layout, Mangammanapalya, BEL Colony and Jindal Colony, where the piped gas is already being supplied. Another 1.8 lakh residents have registered for the PNG gas connection.

Future projections

By the end of the 2018-19 financial year, the industrial customer base of PNG in the city will exceed 100, informs a Gail official. Commercial establishments, mainly hotels big and small, have also signed up besides 140 apartments. The Authority is also in talks with the Hoteliers Association to get connected wherever feasible.

Live industrial customers in the Gail fold include the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), Rail Wheel Factory, Intel, Biocon and Wipro. Several smaller units in the Peenya and Bommasandra industrial areas are also part of the network.

Gated communities

Unlike individual houses, gated communities are now eager to take the Gail route to piped gas. Big builders too are in talks with GCL to build the infrastructure required to supply PNG in upcoming apartment blocks. GCL is convinced that eventually, PNG will be the default gas connection in the city even if it takes time.

In certain pockets of the city, however, pipe-laying work has been slow. The work has actually ground to a halt in the HAL area. A Gail official attributes this to permission issues with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). “We are in talks with HAL to sort this out,” the official assures.

Residents frown upon open cutting of roads to lay the pipeline. Coordinating with the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is critical. But Gail has an alternative option called Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD), a method of installing underground pipelines through trenchless methods.

Horizontal drilling

The process involves the use of a directional drilling machine, and associated attachments, to accurately drill along the chosen bore path and back ream the required pipe. But this process is not viable on smaller roads as the HDD machines occupy much space. “We have interactions with the local communities to bear with the inconvenience for a short while. Citizens understand, since we have been generally good at road restoration,” the official explains.

PNG’s ease of use, billing that aids pay according to use, and the recent hikes in LPG cylinder prices have also worked in favour of the piped gas. The piped gas is currently priced at Rs 26 / cubic metre. A family of four typically consumes 0.5 to 0.7 cubic metres every day. Usage is billed bi-monthly by smart metres, with payment options available both online and offline.

CNG stations

Besides PNG, Gail’s Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) offering in the city is gathering momentum. Currently, the city has eight commissioned CNG stations including the ones in Laggere, Prem Nagar; APC Circle, Jigani; Peenya Industrial Area; Sunkadakatte; Bommasandra Industrial Area. By March 31, 2019, Bengaluru will have 25 CNG stations, according to Gail.

In June this year, Gail and app-based taxi aggregator, Uber had inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote use of CNG as fuel in the city. Under this partnership, dubbed ‘Hasiru Bengaluru,’ Gail is to provide free CNG to the first 500 cars signing onto the programme, capped at a maximum of Rs 10,000 per car.

A top Gail official had estimated that the use of CNG could lead to monthly savings of up to Rs 15,000 for Uber drivers in Bengaluru.

Game-changer

But for large-scale adoption of CNG as an alternative fuel in the city, Gail is clear about one game-changer: A large fleet of BMTC buses plying on the green fuel. This was precisely its objective when it set up three CNG filling stations at three BMTC depots nearly three yeras ago.

However, the Transport Corporation’s progress on this count has been too slow to Gail’s liking. For BMTC, it has always been a question of financial viability. The deadlock continues.

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