Putting an end to dangerous re-fuelling practices in Armenia
Being a landlocked country and having no natural resources such as oil or gas, Armenia imports its fuel from Russia. This leads to high prices, especially on petrol. For example, 1 litre of gasoline costs approximately 90 USD cents, 5 to 7 times more than the cost of using gas. Therefore, it makes sense that almost all vehicle owners choose to use gas instead of petrol.
In light of this, almost all service stations in Armenia have the capacity to install the gas system into cars. However, this is done without any Government supervision or oversight. There is also no registration system with regards to the number of vehicles using natural gas, leaving the industry open to corruption and mismanagement. Although no data is available, it is estimated that over 70% of vehicles in Armenia run on natural gas. Without checks and balances, the balloons installed to hold the gas can be highly dangerous.
Over the last three years, a number of gas balloons installed in cars have exploded. The first few incidences were reported at gas stations, as worn out balloons were being used and overfilled. In 2019, there was one such incident where a balloon exploded on the road. Several people were caught in the resultant fire, included children.
With no technical inspection the situation is worsening. Gas station owners are heating up the gas, causing it to expand. This way they can fill balloons using less gas and generate more money.
This issue was brought to the attention of the Armenian government in 2018, following an inception report on the dangers of using natural gas by EASST partner, Poghos Shahinyan of the National Road Safety Council NGO (NRSC). This led to a review and happily, legislation has now been finalised (although not yet passed) to enforce technical inspections on the use of natural far in vehicles. NRSC are now working with the Armenian Parliament to make sure the proposed changes come into effect in legislation as soon as possible.
In the meantime, the NRSC are working directly with the Road Police to help them collect and integrate data on natural gas use in vehicles into their existing data collection systems. The reforms will make it obligatory for inspectors to report any vehicle engine system change to the Road Police enabling the police to carry out further checks through the implementation of a certification process. NRSC have also raised the issue with the Government Market Supervision and Monitoring Agency to ensure their commitment to supervising and inspecting service stations were gas systems are being installed.
This is important work that will bring Armenia’s use of natural gas in vehicles in line with international best practice and ensure safety standards making its use safe for all road users.