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'Bad gas' report prompts new regulations

Observer senior reporter

Friday, August 09, 2019

News that nearly 400 motorists are likely to benefit from the $24.5 million compensation the government says should be paid to motorists, who suffered from the 2015 sub-standard petrol or 'bad gas' saga, made the headlines last week.

However, it is still unclear how the motorists themselves feel about the offer considering that motor vehicles' engines and parts were damaged, $24.5 million may not go far enough to help them forget the sad episode.

Incidentally, the consumers who will benefit are only those who have been verified as having suffered material damage from the contaminated petrol, and who have submitted genuine claims with supporting documents within the specified deadline and have been waiting for almost three years for redress.

But, the truth is that the compensation recommended by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture Fisheries (MICAF), and the stamp of approval last week by recently appointed Minister of Science, Energy and Technology (MSET), Fayval Williams, may end up being much less important to the motorists and other petroleum stakeholders, than the regulations the government plans to impose.

The ministry's proposals were based on the recommendations from the Petroleum Trade Reform Committee's (PTRC) probe of the industry, following their appointment by former minister, Phillip Paulwell, on January 8, 2016.

They were asked to investigate reports of substandard petrol in the local market, and further mandated to make recommendations with respect to the protection of the integrity of the petroleum trade; optimum maintenance of standards; new protocols; legislative amendments; and the adequacy of penalties for offences under the Petroleum (Quality Control) Act and Regulations.

The PTRC conducted numerous interviews with various stakeholders in the petroleum sector. Additionally, they engaged a consultant who was responsible for conducting independent scientific analyses with the objective of identifying the source of the contaminated petroleum in the local market.

MSET has examined the recommendations from the PTRC and, having accepted that they would improve the Petroleum Industry, submitted them to Cabinet for consideration and directives.

While awaiting the decision, the Bereau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) recommended that the specification for unwashed gum on additised fuel should be a maximum of 30mg/100mL. This recommendation was based on the PTRC's suspicion that high levels of unwashed gum contributed to the petroleum issues experienced by consumers. The minister of energy has already implemented this recommendation by Ministerial Order.

There are also plans to establish a Petroleum Inspectorate within the BSJ which will be charged with regulating the quality and safety of petroleum products, as well as to monitor the petroleum sector.

The inspectorate will have responsibility to: process applications for licenses and renewals for persons seeking to operate in accordance with the petroleum legislation; maintain a register and keep records and data on petroleum licensees, petroleum products imported into Jamaica as well as the vetting of the vessels transporting the petroleum products; provide guidelines for petroleum marketing operations; ensure the interests of consumers and petroleum service providers are protected by monitoring standards of performance and the quality of the provision of petroleum services through regular inspections of petroleum facilities on a random basis.

Haulage contractors will be required to submit an exception report in writing to the Petroleum Inspectorate, on the movement of each tank truck and tanker wagon within 15 days after the last day of each quarter; and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Marine Police, Jamaica Customs, and the Jamaica Defence Coast Guard will be sensitised by the MSET on the need to be more proactive in investigating illegal operations, initiate investigations into standards of quality of petroleum products offered to consumers, and supply intelligence on illegal activities to the appropriate investigating bodies.