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Tatev Khachatryan

Safety Lapse: What Causes Automobile Gas Tank Explosions and Deaths in Armenia?

From 2012-2015, 18 explosions at natural gas filling stations were reported in Armenia. Four were reported in Yerevan and Kotayk, three incidents occurred in Armavir, and between 1 and 2 were recorded in the provinces of Aragatzotn, Gegharkounik, Vayots Dzor, Ararat and Lori. 

Five of the 18 explosions occurred last May resulting in deaths. 

After the last explosion in May, when Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan raised the issue during a government session, Minister of Emergency Situations and Territorial Administration Armen Yeritsyan said that “security measures were to be strictly observed.” The Prime Minister’s concerns are justifiable as several of the natural gas stations on the road from Artashat to Yeraskh are owned by his relatives

After the government session two more explosions were recorded in Charentsavan and Maralik. 

Most out of the 250,000 vehicles on Armenia’s roads run on natural gas. About 10% of cars are converted to run on the alternative fuel annually. 

Strict rules, codes and governmental decisions are in place for outfitting cars with natural gas tanks and how the process should be regulated. However, the law is undermined when the relevant supervisory bodies are absent. In Armenia, several ministries perform regulation and oversight in the gas sector. 

The Ministry of Emergency Situations and Territorial Administration regularly inspects natural gas filling stations, records violations and checks paperwork in order to eliminate or rectify flaws. The Ministry of Economy issues certificates to gas tank installers and testing facilities to ensure that vehicles fitted with natural gas tanks pass inspections once every two years. Stickers must appear in the upper right corner of windshields indicating the next inspection deadline. However, such stickers do not exist and very few motorists have their cars inspected every two to three years. 

In order to facilitate competition per the Armenian law “On Licensing”, legal entities installing gas tanks of compressed natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas were removed from the list subject to mandatory licensing. The Ministry of Economy’s Armenian National Accreditation Body has lately been issuing accreditation documents. 

There are eight testing laboratories in Armenia that have the right to perform periodic inspections of compressed gas tanks and power supply tests on fuel systems. According to the Ministry of Economy, in response to an inquiry made by Hetq, all the laboratories have the appropriate conditions, technical equipment and staff necessary.

Appropriate decisions, requirements and technical regulations are in place for installing gas tanks, the specifics of which are listed in Decision N 1582, put into effect in October 2006. 

Volunteerism is one of the principles of accreditation, and most gas tank installations are not performed by expert technicians but by amateurs working out of their homes.  Gas tanks are required to be periodically certified and have the necessary paperwork. They must also have a safety system and compression coils installed. According to our studies very few automobiles meet the requirements. 

Not all natural gas tanks are brand new. In some cases tanks meant for holding oxygen or ammonia are used because they are low-cost. The implications in cases of explosions where such tanks are used are far worse since they are made to withstand different pressures and are designed differently. 

Many public transportation vehicles and taxis are powered by natural gas. Private taxis are required to have the appropriate licensing that is obtained when drivers present the necessary paperwork, including safety test results, to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications for approval. Occasionally the approval process takes so long that applicants are required to approach “broker organizations” that speed up the licensing process for a fee and save time for drivers. 

Filling gas under high pressure is one of the reasons for explosions. Drivers do not refute that the atmospheric pressure of gas is more than 200 atm. Official natural gas filling stations in Armenia have the means for setting the maximum amount of pressure at 200 atm. But higher pressure means less gas to be filled and thus more profits.  

The Ministry of Emergency Situations and Territorial Administration told Hetq that gas filling stations regularly perform investigations and undertake the necessary measures to prevent fires from breaking out and have technical safety tests performed periodically. Gas filling stations have a checklist issued by the Ministry of Economy that they must follow. 

Mkrtich Tigranyan is the director of Expert Tech LLC, one of the eight gas tank safety testing laboratories. The company has a certificate of accreditation to test compressed natural gas or liquid gas fuel systems and gas tanks. He said that explosions related to problems with gas tanks and gas stations have existed since 1989 and are concerning. 


“The problem starts with gas stations filling at high pressures,” Tigranyan said. “Instead of a maximum of 200 atm, they go up to 230-250 atm and in the provinces as high as 280 atm. This is not permitted and only puts gas tanks under stress.” 

“In the last 5-6 years 99 percent of the installed gas tanks have been Chinese manufactured metal-plastic tanks that serve 15 years, but when they’re filled under high pressures, their life expectancy decreases two to three times,” he said. 

Tigranyan suggested that the Ministry of Economy create a database of drivers that have vehicles with natural gas tanks installed and to note how and in what manner their gas tanks should be tested. With such a system in place, gas fillings stations will understand whether tanks are in proper working condition. 

“They said it was a good idea, but nothing came out of it,” he said. 

Tigranyan stated that very few tank safety tests have been performed on the more than 250,000 vehicles on Armenia’s roads. “According to the data collected from other laboratories that we studied, only 5-7 percent of installed tanks have been tested,” he said.

Comments (1)

and we ride these taxis as tourists in AM !! Horrible ! can you give advice about a SAFE vehicle ? TH.Y.

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