Vendors warned on hoarding

Cooking gas vendors have been warned not to capitalise on fears of a looming shortage by raising prices.

A man prepares to deliver cooking gas cylinders to customers amid concerns of a looming energy shortage in April. Demand for household gas has increased and some shops are reported to be hoarding supplies. PATTARAPONG CHATPATTARASILL

Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa, the Internal Trade Department's director-general, told the public not to panic over a disruption in gas deliveries from Myanmar in April as it will not affect liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is often used as cooking gas.

Her remark followed reports that some vendors had started to hoard cooking gas in anticipation of possible shortages on April 5-14.

According to the reports, some buyers have offered advance payments to traders to guarantee they will have enough cooking gas during that time.

Ms Wiboonlasana assured consumers that only gas which is used in electricity generation will be affected by the supply disruption.

Cooking gas is produced by oil refineries, with 25% imported from Singapore and the Middle East, she said.

She said the department has sent officials to monitor gas shops nationwide to prevent stockpiling and price raising.

"There will be enough cooking gas to meet demand," Ms Wiboonlasana said.

"Cooking gas is under the department's price control list. Operators who are found to have stockpiled or raised prices will be prosecuted."

Santichai Santawanpas, the department's deputy director-general, said operators who charge more than 285 baht per 15kg cylinder or 890 baht per 48kg cylinder plus transportation costs could face up to seven years in prison or a fine of 140,000 baht.

Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal said yesterday he had directed the Energy Business Department to inspect LPG filling factories, service stations and LPG retailers to ensure they do not hoard stocks.

Mr Pongsak said Thailand would have a sufficient supply of LPG because gas separation plants in the east would not be affected by the reduction of Myanmar's natural gas supply from the west.

He said there will be no shortage of compressed natural gas, because the ministry has back-up plans to address the problem.

However, a reduction of the natural gas supply in Myanmar may affect power production and there will be brownouts _ a drop in the voltage of the electrical power supply _ in some areas.

But he believed the energy crisis would ease quickly as the industrial sector has agreed to cut production capacity to help save energy on April 5, the first day of the supply disruption, and he expected the public would also comply.

In Ayutthaya, cooking gas retailers are checking stocks and topping up cylinders to ensure there is enough cooking gas for their customers in the event that cooking gas prices are floated as well as the expected energy shortage.

But retailers insisted they were not hoarding. Orn-uma Tamonutkul, 44, a cooking gas retailer, said the gas is still available at normal prices and retailers are just preparing for potential shortages.

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Writer: Phusadee Arunmas & Sunthorn Pongpao