Photo by Archie Macias
Gas man - butanero
You may have heard them calling through the streets: “Bu-tan-oooo.” Or you may have heard the clanging of metal on metal announcing their arrival. This is the butanero’s unmistakeable announcement that he is making his delivery rounds.
The fact that butaneros physically deliver tanks to households is a rarity in itself, and dates back to the Franco era, when the government-administered gas company had a monopoly. The provision of this service is now the domain of Repsol, but butaneros remain. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tanks are distributed throughout the Iberian Peninsula, but in France, for example, domestic LPG users are obliged to take empty tanks to their local petrol station where they can either refill them or buy new ones. This option is also available here, but the gas tanks can also be bought directly from a truck on a delivery route.
Delivering the tanks is not an easy day’s work, and is one that most Spaniards would not consider. Deliveries are subcontracted by Repsol to truck drivers who hire the butaneros. They work for the tips people give them after they carry the 12.5-kilogramme tanks upstairs on their shoulders.
The cost of a 12.5-kilogramme butane tank is €11.05, according to Repsol. Such tanks are manufactured exclusively for domestic purposes. In Spain, people tend to use LPG tanks mainly for their cooking or heating needs, although some of its other uses range from powering cars to refrigeration and air-conditioning. Santiago Jiménez, a resident of El Born, said he only uses butane gas in the kitchen. “It probably lasts me up to about three months, give or take a week or two.”
The relatively low price of butano may be why some people choose to use gas tanks. Some may simply prefer it as an alternative to natural gas or electricity or, for the simple reason that’s just the way things have always been done. In December 2006, there were 229,000 LPG gas tank users in Spain, down 1,000 from the previous year. Sales dropped from 24,000 tonnes in 2005 to 20,000 tonnes in 2006.
Throughout Spain, Repsol has estimated a further nine percent drop in its commercial sales of LPG from the first quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2007. This continued an ongoing decline seen in the past few years. A Repsol spokeswoman attributed this fall in patronage to “the many number of clients that have chosen to take up natural gas.”
This decline has also been reflected in Barcelona, which was the first city in Spain to conform to European standards by having almost every part of the city connected to natural gas pipelines. These constant and free-flowing gas pipelines provided by Gas Natural have made the provision of gas much more convenient, and have been a major factor in luring more clients over from Repsol.
Another possible reason for butano’s declining use may be because of safety concerns and fear. While gas tanks are relatively safe, they are liable to explode—in the case of fire, extreme heat or incorrect usage—with the force of a bomb. Even as the numbers of butano users continues to go down, however, the shouts of passing butaneros, and the clang of their iron sticks against the tanks, will still be sounding through the city’s streets this winter.
Un butanero's point of view
Wasim, as he asked to be called, is in his mid-40s. Originally from Pakistan, he has been living in Barcelona for six years, and has been delivering Repsol’s gas tanks to peoples’ homes for the past four months. He makes his livelihood from the tips people give him.
“Each delivery man has his own neighbourhoods. I work everywhere between Barceloneta, Santa Caterina, Poblenou and Besòs Mar. It’s a fairly large area to cover and the heat and humidity make it tough. Delivering to the top floors of apartment buildings with no elevators is probably what I enjoy least about the job.”