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Delhi HC suggests using CNG cylinders to transport Oxygen, union govt says not possible: Understanding the technical and legal aspects

While the technical aspects of converting CNG cylinders to transport Oxygen are not known and seem to be untested, from the legal point of view it is not permitted in India

While hearing the matter of severe shortage of oxygen in the hospitals in Delhi due to the surge of Covid-19 cases, the Delhi High Court today asked the govt to use CNG cylinders to transport medical oxygen as an interim arrangement. The court said that there is shortage of gas cylinders to transport oxygen within city limits, and the option to use CNG cylinders for the purpose should be explored.

When the court made this suggestion, central government standing counsel Monika Arora said that it would not be possible, as the there are differences in the composition. To this, the court said an interim solution must be found to transport oxygen, and asked the concerned officer whether CNG cylinders can be used as the cryogenic tanks are in short supply.

Officer Senthil Nathan replied that they have been informed that it is not possible due to changes in constitution. He said that cryogenic tanks are needed for oxygen at specific temperature. To this the court again intervened, saying they are not talking about liquid oxygen that needs cryogenic tanks, but gaseous oxygen, and ordered the officer to find out if CNG cylinders can be used to transport oxygen in gas form.

Advocate Anshul Sehgal informed that court that it is possible to do so legally, as the Gas Cylinder Rules prevent such a possibility. However, the court again rejected that by saying that there must be some logic behind the rule, most possibly the same tanks used for different gases may be a problem, by the cylinders always can be sanitised.

Delhi govt’s additional standing counsel advocate Satykam also added that the same rules also allow conversion of cylinders.

While the Delhi High Court suggested a solution to address the issue of cylinder shortage to transport oxygen, two issues to that came up in the court, technical and legal. While it was said that it is not possible to use CNG cylinder to carry oxygen due to difference in composition, it was also informed that existing rules don’t allow this.

Let us look at both the issues.

While the standing counsel for the central government technically it is possible, it is interesting that the Health and Family Welfare Ministry had proposed the exact solution last year. According to reports, in April 2020, the ministry had asked the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL), gas cylinder manufacturers, and their transporters to evaluate the technical feasibility of move oxygen in CNG cylinders. The report said that according to the industry sources, this was deemed as do-able.

However, no report is available on whether such an evaluation was done, and what was the result of the same if it was done. As there is no evidence that CNG cylinders have been used to transport oxygen anywhere, and no research report on this is available, it is not certain whether it is technically possible or not. While in general it seems that CNG cylinder could be used to oxygen after thoroughly cleaning and sanitising them, only experts in the subject matter can take a decision on the matter.

In the same month last year, the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) of the government of India had framed rules for the conversion of cylinders used to carry other products to carry oxygen. However, these guidelines were for the conversion of only industrial oxygen cylinders and non-flammable inert gas cylinders to medical oxygen cylinders. The guidelines specifically said that only industrial Oxygen, Nitrogen, Argon and Helium cylinders can be converted to medical Oxygen cylinders.

PESO guidelines on converting cylinders

Even for these cylinders of these gases, PESO had prescribed a detailed sanitisation process of the cylinders, which included cleaning after removing the valves, filling with warm water, fitting oxygen valves etc.

As the guidelines didn’t mention CNG, and it specifically said ‘non flammable gas cylinders’, it makes it clear that PESO had not allow conversion of CNG cylinders into medical oxygen cylinders. It is needless to say that Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is a flammable gas, used mostly in automobile sector in India.

As Anshul Sehgal noted, the Gas Cylinder Rules also prohibit such a conversion. According to rule 19 of the Gas Cylinder Rules, 2016, no cylinder which has once been used for storage and transportation of coal gas, carbon monoxide, Compressed Bio Gas, Hydrogen, CNG, Coal Bed Methane and methane shall be used for filling with any other gas except a mixture of these gases with inert gases. This means, the CNG cylinders can not be used to store and transport any other gas.

Gas Cylinder Rules, 2016

The Delhi govt’s advocate said that the same rules also allow conversion of cylinders. While that is true, the fact is that it is not applicable for CNG cylinders. According to rule 28 of the rules, inert gas, oxygen and compressed air cylinders can be converted one gas to another after fitting with appropriate valves and fulfilling other requirements of the Rules. Therefore, this rule also makes it clear that CNG cylinders are not allowed to be converted to Oxygen cylinders.

Gas Cylinder Rules, 2016

In conclusion, while the technical aspects of converting CNG cylinders to transport Oxygen are not known and seem to be untested, from the legal point of view it is not permitted in India. Both the Gas Cylinder Rules and the PESO guidelines on converting cylinders for oxygen do not permit use of CNG cylinders for the same. However, if experts find that it is technically feasible, the court may order an amendment of the rules.

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