Public will not pay for upgrade of pipelines: Towngas

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2006, 12:00am

Towngas has assured customers the cost of upgrading pipelines will not mean bigger gas bills.

The Hong Kong and China Gas Company has promised to replace all 150km of gas pipes that are 20 years old or older, after a gas explosion in Ngau Tau Kok in which one person was killed and eight injured.

The cost of replacing the pipes would not affect gas charges, the company's managing director, Alfred Chan Wing-kin, told the Legislative Council's economic services panel yesterday.

'Consumers will not be asked to pay more,' he said.

The cause of the April 11 explosion has still not been officially established. A joint team from the police, Fire Services Department, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department and the government laboratory is still investigating the blast.

Government inspectors earlier said the gas explosion was likely the result of a rare combination of factors.

Gas leaked out through a hole in a pipe, travelled 25 metres along that pipe and leaked into a utilities void under the Wai King Building and a pump room, where it was ignited by a spark.

The explosion blew a hole a metre deep in the lift lobby of the building in Jordan Valley North Road. An 89-year-old woman fell into the hole and died.

Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services Roger Lai Sze-hoi said the investigation report was expected to be completed in three to four months. A full report will be submitted to the Coroner's Court.

'An underground gas pipe with a hole of 7cm in diameter was removed and sent to a university for examination and tests to find out how and why the hole was formed,' Mr Lai said.

He stressed all gas pipes in Hong Kong were safe and met international standards.

The gas company has doubled the number of inspections of pipes to six a year since the explosion and begun checks on 20,000 single-block old buildings, which will be finished before the end of the year.

About 5,200 have been inspected so far, with utilities voids found at 290 buildings.

Three of the buildings are of the same design as the Wai King Building.

Democrats Fred Li Wah-ming and Sin Chung-kai yesterday urged the company to make sure inspections were effective.

'Towngas checked on the problematic gas pipe in March, which was just about a month before the explosion. If the inspections were effective, how come such a big hole could be formed in such a short time? No sign at all was spotted during the check?' Mr Li asked.

'When increasing the frequency of inspections, the quality of the checks is also very important,' he said.