Each stage of the production cycle has a unique set of economic, environmental, and social costs and benefits.
Extraction and shipping of LPG to West African ports: Unfortunately, Sodigaz’s director is not sure of the origin of the gas he buys. Regardless of where it comes from, extraction and shipping has an overall negative environmental impact due to CO2 emissions related to these activities. Extraction may also entail additional environmental damage, though it is difficult to specify the overall environmental impact due to the lack of information. Extraction and shipping do have a positive social impact by creating jobs in the countries where they are based.
Selling gas to LPG companies: Gas sales create employment on a local level, but also require land for storage. Anywhere that there are large amounts of stored gas, there is risk of explosion and fire. Cistern trucks sent by LPG companies to collect the gas impact the environment negatively through CO2 emissions. Once the gas is transferred to the Sodigaz trucks, the trip back to Bamako involves more CO2 emissions. In addition, the roads in West Africa are not always well maintained and accidents are frequent. An accident involving LPG would most likely result in an explosion. Transporting gas does, however, create employment and result in import tax, which helps run government programs.
Back in Bamako: On arrival in Bamako, the gas is transferred into storage containers. When filled to capacity, these containers allow Sodigaz and end-users to have uninterrupted gas use for approximately three weeks if there is a gas shortage. Shortages do happen and it is important to have an adequate supply of gas in storage. As demand grows, the amount currently stored will be insufficient, so storage capacity needs to be increased. The storage of large amounts of gas, however, poses safety issues that could have negative social and environmental impacts if not properly addressed. The staff surveyed all stated that the safety at their workplace was either good or very good, so this does not seem to be a major concern.
Delivering gas to distributors: Empty cylinders are filled with gas and loaded onto trucks for delivery to distributors and end-users. This stage creates the most direct employment. People are needed to fill the bottles, to decide where the bottles should be transported, to work on finding new distributors, and to monitor the inventory. Technicians are needed to ensure that all of the equipment is working properly, and accountants are required to monitor finances. Sodigaz directly employs 25 permanent staff and 19 day laborers. The staff is relatively young, with a majority being between 27 and 28 years old. All staff members work six days a week and most work five to eight hours a day. One concern is that the drivers claim to work over 12 hours a day. If this is spent actually driving, this is dangerous because, as stated before, accidents involving gas trucks can be quite serious.
Workplace atmosphere: The staff’s team spirit is one of the company’s major strengths. The majority of the staff claims to be happy at their workplace. There have been no reports of any discrimination, harassment or inequality, though some complain about salary and delays in payment. Most of the staff has never had any training, though the director says that there is one training session on safety and security. The staff has expressed interest in more training on topics ranging from accounting to safety.
Cylinder delivery: The cylinders are transported by truck to distributors; some trucks also sell directly to users. The delivery process generates both jobs for drivers and income for the 600 distributors. Truck transport does result in CO2 emissions, but it could be argued that there is a net environmental benefit, as emissions would be higher if each user and distributor had to drive to pick up their cylinders. Some of the distributors are located in very distant and inaccessible places like Timbuktu.
Cylinder sales: Selling cylinders to end-users benefits both distributors and Sodigaz economically. Sales also involve a government subsidy, which is paid by the government to Sodigaz, not always in a timely fashion. This delay means that Sodigaz may not have enough working capital to purchase the quantity of gas needed.
Benefits to the end-user: By the end of 2008, Sodigaz provided LPG access to a total of 75,330 people, saving end-users time and money. It takes about 60% less time to cook a meal with LPG as opposed to charcoal, leaving the end-user extra time for income-generating activities, domestic chores, education, or leisure. Since women are usually responsible both for cooking and securing cooking fuel, this also has positive gender equality implications, though they are difficult to quantify.
Environmental benefits: The use of LPG helps reduce deforestation, which is one of the biggest environmental concerns in Mali. Between four and eight kilograms of charcoal are needed to cook a meal, depending on family size. If each family cooks two full meals per, this means 56 to 112 kilograms of charcoal per week per family. As the charcoal comes from wood, this use leads to deforestation.
Through its sales, Sodigaz has replaced 28,091 tons of charcoal and 61,855 tons of firewood with LPG, and offset 3,217 tons of CO2. An additional benefit of using LPG is that users are becoming aware of the problem of deforestation, and the relationship between their use of LPG and their environment.
Energy security: The switch to LPG does mean that Mali is becoming more dependent on imported gas, minimizing its energy security. But while charcoal is produced locally, is not sustainably managed and thus will not be able to supply the country in the future. Importing gas appears to be a better option.
Health benefits: LPG, like charcoal, produces emissions, but they are much lower in volume and less toxic, which means less respiratory and eye infections for end-users.