LAHORE, Feb 10: Civic, industrial and commercial activities almost came to a halt as most areas of Punjab passed Monday without gas due to an explosion in three main pipelines in Rahimyar Khan the previous day. Gas authorities say the situation will start improving from Tuesday (today).
“It is perhaps the worst-ever gas pipeline blast in Punjab as it caused over 45 per cent gas shortfall (700mmcfd) in the 1650mmcfd quota allocated for the province in winter. Before the incident, 950mmcfd was flowing in the blown-up pipelines,” Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told Dawn on Monday.
He said SNGPL teams had started repair work and hoped that supply to domestic consumers would be restored by Tuesday afternoon and that to industry by Wednesday afternoon.
He said the gas pipelines of 18-, 42- and 36-inch diameter had been damaged by the blasts, but luckily a 24-inch pipeline remained safe. This enabled the SNGPL to provide gas to domestic consumers partially on Monday. “However, most domestic consumers are either facing extreme low gas pressure or getting no gas,” Mr Abbasi said.
He said he had asked an additional secretary of the ministry to hold an inquiry into the blast. Rahimyar Khan District Police Officer Sohail Zafar Chattha said initial police findings suggested that the blasts might have been caused by gas leakage. He said police had collected some metal parts from the site and sent them to a laboratory for analysis. Police will be in a position to say whether it was a terrorist activity or accident only after receiving a report from the laboratory.
Mr Chattha said police had found an IED (improvised explosive device) in the same site a month ago. “We gave a cash award of Rs10,000 to the man who provided the information about presence of the IED.”
He said police had recently provided SNGPL security guards to protect its pipelines and other installations, but the company was required to hire its own guards.
Life was badly affected in Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Sargodha, Sahiwal and other towns and cities in the province.
In Lahore, the situation was miserable as a majority of people, including schoolchildren, left homes without having breakfast. There was no gas for commercial ovens (Tandoor), leaving the people with no option but to arrange food from bakeries.
People were also seen either buying firewood or LPG cylinders for cooking.
“You cannot imagine how we spent the whole day. After sending my children to school and husband to his office on empty stomach, I myself came out to purchase some wood to prepare lunch,” said Sakina of Rehmanpura (Ichra).
Aqeel Ahmad, of Wapda Town, said he burnt some waste furniture wood lying at his home to help his wife cook something.
Saleem Shahid adds from Quetta: The banned Baloch Republican Army has claimed responsibility for the blasts in the gas pipelines in Rahimyar Khan. Calling journalists from an unidentified place on Monday, its spokesman Sarbaz Baloch said the BRA had blown up the pipelines because these were supplying gas to Punjab from the Sui gas field in Dera Bugti district, Balochistan.