A senior researcher and a trainer in government who preferred enormity due to sensitivity of the matter has said that Uganda is not ready to glowingly manage oil and gas wastes as oil companies prepare to enter into commercial production stage for the oil discovered in the Albertine region.
Our reporter managed to carry out investigations on whether Uganda is ready to handle wastes that will be generated from oil. The investigations were carried out between December 2015 and February 2016 and here are the findings. However the issue of oil waste management seems to be a contentious because most of the sources preferred to be anonymous in fear of being scolded.
Speaking to our reporter in her office, the researcher said that Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) has applied for a license from National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to manage oil and gas wastes something that is going to increase unnecessary number of wastes management plants in the country.
“It is not going to be possible for NEMA to manage various wastes management plants because they are currently having only four supervisors. It would be better to have one oil and gas wastes management plant for a small country like Uganda to achieve economies of scale given the fact that huge pieces of land are required to establish such facilities”, the researcher observed.
The researcher added that, much as financing a big facility may be a bit costly, under the polluter pays principal, which is the best principal internationally, the oil companies are supposed to incur treatment cots. “You can imagine Tullow Pty Uganda Ltd is taking its wastes to UPDF incinerator in Nakasongola because there are weak laws making oil companies to explore viable economics. Heritage bought land where she dumped oil and gas wastes and legendary wastes were transferred to waste management plants”, she noted.
The research consultant suggested that, government would have trained its staff to manage oil and gas wastes like it has been done with exploration, production and drilling because creating a third party fetches in a big gap adding that, government would have had shares in wastes management firms that are coming up as a way of having an upper hand in wastes treatment.
“In developed countries, there is insurance policy to cater for whatever may come out of oil and gas wastes mismanagement, something Uganda needs to think about. There is no national spillage contingent plan, no personnel and technology to handle oil spills and we are currently relying on small equipment possessed by CNOOC. In case a serious spill occurred, we may lose the whole of Lake Albert and therefore, the level of readiness is wanting because NEMA itself can’t handle”, the researcher warned. She advises government to borrow experience of what has happened in other oil producing countries like Ghana, Sudan, and Nigeria among others.
The consultant intimates that, oil companies have more expertise that regulating government bodies that are being manipulated because there are no deterrent punitive measures hence making clean money out of wastes. “NEMA is revising the laws as oil companies are busy managing wastes referring to international regulations that may not be applicable to Uganda since our oil is offshore. We should have borrowed a leaf from Norway that believes oil companies need serious regulations other than using short cuts to make money and go away. Remember, oil companies are not charity organizations that mind of our environment, it is up to Ugandans to ensure that there are strict laws to avoid short cuts in oil and gas wastes management”, she empathized.
The researcher maintains that, the capacity, regulation and infrastructure management of oil and gas wastes is not well planned because at Nyamasoga, much as the plant is in use, landfills were being prepared at the same time yet the system would have been thoroughly completed and commissioned before put to use. She also wants the level of disclosure at wastes management plants revised so that NEMA can have easy access at all the time to know what is happening.
Bob Ambrose Nuwagira, a senior information Education and communication officer with National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) does not agree with what the researcher raised instead believes that, Uganda is ready to handle any kind of waste that will be generated from the process of oil production activities.
Right now, no wastes are being generated but a lot of wastes were generated as a result of drilling that was made during exploration phase and according to NEMA Act, NEMA is the principal agency in Uganda mandated to coordinate, monitor, supervise and enforce all activities of environment.
“Third schedule outlines that, development activities ought to undertake environmental impact study. Part of the environmental impact study, especially in the oil sector shows how oil companies will handle wastes that will be generated”, Nuwagira explained.
NEMA mouthpiece added that, originally, there were consolidation cites put in place near drilling area after Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) were made for each of the three oil companies that is Total E&P Uganda, China Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Tullow Pty Uganda and right now, all wastes in consolidation areas have been transferred to wastes managements plants and put into landfills and there is more space to accommodate more wastes that will be generated during production process.
Nuwagira stated that: “We have licensed more than three waste handlers but Evniro Serve in Hoima and Luwero triangle at Nakasongola barracks are purposely for handling oil wastes. Many players are coming up for wastes management business licenses, making Uganda more than ready to handle oil wastes”.
On whether NEMA has capacity to regulate oil waste management, the communications officer said that, environment has cross cutting sectors much as the number of employees seems to be low. “NEMA takes the lead but we have Directorate of Water Resources Management, National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) and Local Governments to handle issues of environment in water bodies, forests, game parks and in communities respectively. However; when drilling began, there was no capacity that is why consolidation areas where put in place”.
On government involvement in managing wastes directly, Nuwagira explained that, they are promoting Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) as a way of encouraging participation of both local and foreign investors adding that; “Eviro Serve is an international organization with enough expertize in oil waste management but local people have shares in it. There are so many tools in place to ensure compliance and at all levels; we have inspectors to do routine inspections hence government involvement”.
On transportation of wastes, Nuwagira explained that, not every truck is allowed to transport wastes; there are guidelines, regulations and requirements every vehicle must have. “In case of leakages, reports must be made, transport audits must be made, records made at the source and final destination. Case of variation in quantities, it may imply that waste was dumped along the way and if so, the transporter can be reprimanded, license revoked and the area where dumping was done is restored”.
“We have a draft of oil spill contingency plan and a strategy is being worked on. We have generated oil and gas waste management guideline, we have sensitivity atlas for all ecosystems that may be affected by oil and gas activities in the Albertine grabben. We also have environment monitoring plan and environment strategic plan for the area. We have also made studies in Countries like Norway to build capacity of our staff to ensure best practices in oil waste management”, Nuwagira disclosed.
Surprisingly, Nuwagira could not tell estimated quantities of different types of wastes that would be generated from oil overtime when production commences in 2018 as expected. He however said that, 121 oil wells were drilled in Albertine Grabben but 102 encountered hydrocarbons and 21 had oil and gas discoveries out of which projections can be made to ascertain the quantities of wastes that will be generated.
Prior information indicates that, out of discoveries so far made in Uganda, oil wells are anticipated to have 3.5billion barrels of crude oil out of which 1.5billion barrels is recoverable
When asked about Uganda’s readiness to handle oil waste, a line senior employee at Petroleum Exploration and Production Department (PEPD) who also preferred to remain unanimous said that their work is only to regulate the generators (Oil Companies) and the rest is done by NEMA.
When asked about the quantities of wastes that would be generated, he replied that: “It is very hard to tell since Kingfisher that is under CNOOC is the only exploration area whose production license was approved and the rest of the exploration area under Tullow Pty Uganda and Total E&P Uganda have not yet been approved”.