Lack of gas hits feeding scheme

By Tanya Waterworth, Lyse Comins & Sihle Mlambo Time of article published Nov 5, 2011

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‘I’m having sleepless nights about how we are going to feed everyone, as we’ve had no gas this week.”

That was Ishmael Chishanu of Emmanuel Cathedral Feeding Scheme in central Durban, which feeds hundreds of homeless people three times a week.

Chishanu said the scheme’s gas bottles were empty and that he “had been running around for a couple of weeks” searching for gas supplies.

“The price has also gone up considerably from R295 to R400 for a 19kg bottle. We normally are planning our Christmas party now, but we don’t know where we are going to be with the gas shortage,” he said.

While the kitchen remained closed, a cathedral parishioner made soup from her flat during the week, served with bread to Durban’s street people.

“Our biggest feeding day is always on Sundays and I think we are going to have to make a fire to cook the rice, phuthu and stew this Sunday,” said Chishanu.

The sudden surge in gas price has given rise to speculation that the gas industry is cashing in on a national shortage of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) that resulted from planned and unplanned shutdowns at some refineries.

Avhapfani Tshifularo, executive director of the SA Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia), which represents the seven major fuel companies, said it had called for an import price parity based on basic fuels principles applicable to petrol, diesel and illuminating paraffin.

However, it was “disingenuous” to suggest that producers had manipulated the shortage to lobby for higher prices.

Tshifularo estimated that the shortage would end after the third week of November. He said problems could be fixed by urgently reviewing infrastructure and pricing issues to benefit from the importation of LPG.

“Besides the planned and unplanned shutdowns, the industry has faced some other challenges such as long import lead-times and limited import facilities. There is an urgent need to address the pricing of LPG at the import terminals and refinery gates to encourage LPG production at local refineries. For example, the current discount of R74/ton is not based on operational reality and therefore makes the product of LPG unfeasible,” Tshifularo said.

“We wish to appeal to the government to urgently address issues regarding the current regulations relating to LPG pricing. Pricing LPG at a level that encourages local production and importation would certainly stimulate the supply of LPG. This will go a long way towards addressing the current price and infrastructure issues plaguing the petroleum industry.”

He said shutdowns were planned to avoid two plants being shut down at the same time. “Most of the time we get this right, we are just unfortunate this time around. Sapia and its members understand the role of the petroleum industry in the economy and would not deliberately do anything to destroy jobs and businesses in South Africa and related countries,” Tshifularo said.

He said the response to the shortage has been handled in partnership with the Department of Energy (DoE), with Sapia members submitting regular production and stock data to the department in order to assist the government with the monitoring of petroleum product supply to industry.

Shortages have hit homes and most restaurants hard. - Independent on Saturday

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