Residents and local leaders in Kibiro Village, Kigorobya Sub-county in Hoima District have expressed worry over an oil spill after a geothermal exploration hole exploded, letting off spillage into the village and Lake Albert.
Some of the residents who spoke to Saturday Monitor said one of the holes that were being drilled exploded, letting out a waxy mixture containing crude oil which smelt like gasoline.
The explosion from one of the eight geothermal exploration holes happened on Saturday night.
Last year, government awarded a Shs2.3b contract to Royal Techno Industries Ltd to drill eight temperature gradient holes to exploit geothermal energy at the famous hotsprings.
This, however, was not welcomed by locals and Bunyoro Kingdom officials, fearing the activities would destroy the ecosystem and frustrate tourism as well as salt production, the primary source of livelihood for the residents.
Residents say the spill poses a risk to their livelihood and health and also threatens the hotsprings.
Mr Apollo Kusiima, a local counsellor in Kibiro, Hoima District, said there was no immediate response from the responsible parties when the incident occurred.
“On February 6, people of Kibiro, the kingdom (Bunyoro) and a team from the Ministry of Energy agreed that the drilling would go on but that they would respond on any issues that would arise,” Mr Kusiima said.
“Last Saturday at around 8 pm, one of the holes exploded and there was a lot of spill, including crude oil. Even now you can smell it. The mixture flowed into the lake [Albert]. Fishermen struggled to wash their nets in vain. Even now it is floating in the lake, I can see it,” Mr Kusiima added.
The exploration holes are about 200 metres from the lake.
“People do not have drinking water. We usually get water from the lake but now you have to buy from Kigorobya...There was a lot of gas that was released and we are not sure of the effect this will have on the people,” Mr Kusiima futher said.
The village, according to the councillor, has a population of about 800 people, with five households in the immediate area of drilling.
Mr John Apollo Rwamparo, the minister for tourism and antiquities in Bunyoro Kingdom, said the kingdom reached out to the Geological Survey and Mines and the Ministry of Energy but there was no response.
“Our concern as the kingdom is that Kibiro is a 1,000-year historical site. It has been producing salt for that long, well maintained for 1,000 years. These spills mean it will not be of use for some time because whatever is produced will be smelling,” Rwampa said.
He also said the incident may pause a risk to the health and livelihood of the residents as well as the environment.
On Thursday, a team from the Geological Survey and Mines, Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU), Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Water and National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) rushed to the area to assess the impact of the spill.
Mr Ernest Rubondo, the executive director of the PAU, confirmed the incident saying they were working to establish what exactly had spilled and assess the extent of the damage.
“There was some work being done there for geothermal drilling. Some of the drilling fluids came out. The drilling fluids spilled around the site. We have sent a team there and we should have a more complete evaluation of the situation by the end of today (yesterday),”Mr Rubondo said.
He said they were also working to establish if the spill had flowed into the lake.
“The Albertine graben is an oil area. Some of the oil even seeps onto the surface. In an oil province, it is normal for oil to seep from a deep oil reservoir even to the surface. If it can seep to the surface, It means along the way, you can find it at any depth as you drill,” Mr Rubondo said.
Mr Baguma Zachary, the acting director of Geological Survey and Mines at the Energy Ministry, said they were assessing the situation and would issue a statement.