What is govt’s plan in regard to oil-related disasters like spills?   

Oil spills create  disasters to human, aquatic life and wildlife in different parts of the world. Therefore, any country that prospects to harvest oil must put in place contingency plans to handle such eventualities. PHOTO | Agencies  

What you need to know:

A number of oil spills have been documented across the globe. Some have caused serious havoc to both human life and the environmental, while others have been managed through organised responses. In this article, we look at how government and oil and gas sub-sector would respond in case of such eventuality.

On April 20, 2010 an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, John P. Rafferty wrote for Britannica, was reported resulting from a surge of natural gas that had blasted through a cement well cap recently installed to seal a well that had been drilled. 

The gas, he noted, had traveled up the rig’s riser to the platform, where it ignited, killing 11 workers and injuring 17.
The oil platform, Rafferty wrote, as a result sunk in two days later, causing the oil well to release some 134 million gallons of oil, which according to findings of the US District Court, coated about 2,100 kilometres of the US Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida.
As a result, several lawsuits were filed against BP, leading to payment of $65b in compensation to people whose livelihoods depended on the Gulf. 
The spillage was documented by Rafferty as one of the biggest among those that have happened in the history oil spills across the globe. 
Oil is a highly commercial and emotive subject. There is too much to write about and there will be many demands that are thrown around - some in a good way - to protect the citizens. 

Therefore, as Uganda works towards first oil by 2025, civil society organisations engaged in conserving the environment want government to make people understand its contingency plan in the event of an oil spill like it has happened elsewhere. 
The contingency plan details how such a disaster would be handled and what is expected of oil-related projects host communities. 
Oil spillages are just like any other disaster. It needs no invitation. It can happen anytime. 
Therefore, all stakeholders, especially government, and joint venture partners, must have a proper plan that should be known by everyone. 
Dickens Amanya is the Bunyoro Petroleum Network on Environmental Conservation coordinator. 

He believes it is now that government, through the Office of the Prime Minister, should begin an awareness campaign to make people understand things like an oil spill and how it can be handled. 
“Host districts [must] develop district specific oil and gas contingency plans,” he says, noting that government must popularise such plans through regular sensitisation sessions. 
In the same measure, Dickens Kamugisha, the African Institute for Energy Governance chief executive office, argues that because such disasters are an apparent danger, everyone must be prepared to handle it in the event that it happens.  

“When companies did environmental social impact assessment reports, they highlighted oil spills as one of the risks for the EACOP, Tilenga and Kingfisher projects. The companies were supposed to come up with complete mitigation plans with clear time-frame and budget such that when a spill happens people are aware of mitigation measures,” he says but notes no plans have been put in place, yet there are number of activities currently taking place.  

For instance, Kamugisha says, the pipeline will cross rivers, water catchment areas and national parks, which in the event of a spill, it would spell disaster for not only human life but wildlife and the environment. 
Therefore, he says, it is prudent that such host communities are sensitised early enough on proper mitigation and management of spills.
Beyond mitigation measures, some civil society organisations believe, host communities of oil-related projects including the EACOP, must be empowered to hold oil companies accountable in case of noncompliance with international and best practices. 
For instance, Brian Nahamya, the Global Rights Alert programme associate, says capacity of host communities to stand against noncompliance to international and best practices must be enhanced given that civil society and regulatory authorities won’t be everywhere. 
Adrin Tugume, 53, is a resident of Kijungu Village, Mpasana Town Council in Kakumiro District. 

The pipeline will pass just a short distance away from her house, which, if anything happens, she will be overly exposed. 
“I fear that the pipeline will affect me. I have children and I rear animals. We asked EACOP whether we can be relocated but they told us the pipeline will be a distance away from my home,” she says. 
However, to calm such fears, Ernest Rubondo, the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU executive directors, says all major oil projects have been properly assessed and are being monitored.

“NEMA [National Environment Management Authority] issued certificates for Kingfisher and EACOP projects in 2019, March 2020, and December 2020. These followed certificates for Tilenga in April 2019,” he says, but notes that as the regulator they are now ensuring that developers put in place environment and social management plans, among which include mitigation measures in the event of challenges. 

How government could deal with a spill if it ever happens 

Gloria Sebikali, the PAU public relations and corporate affairs manager, says government is cognizant of the impact of oil and gas activities on the environment and the need to uphold the highest standards for environmental protection.
Therefore, she says, government has developed and employed a number of tools and systems necessary to safeguard the environment such as the National Environment (Oil Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response) Regulations, 2020 and the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, which contain guidance and response measures in the event of a spill. 
She also notes that a contingency plan has already been approved by the Office of the Prime Minister and adopted for use.

“The national oil spill contingency plan was developed through a wide consultative process involving government agencies including NEMA, PAU, Uganda Wildlife Authority and Office of the Prime Minister. It assigns PAU as the competent Authority to manage oil spills and so, right now we are coordinating and holding stakeholders engagements to develop work plans for implementations of requirements of a contingency plan because it assigns responsibility to different actors,” she said.

Under the EACOP Environment Social Impact Assessment Report, management of disasters such as spills, is also given a lot of attention, which notes that “an emergency response plan will be prepared which clearly identifies possible emergency scenarios, set out actions to be taken in the event of an emergency, and define resources that will be made available to respond to an emergency. 

“It will contain several management plans and procedures, including oil spill contingency, spill management and response and community health safety and security plans,’’ the EACOP Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report, reads in part.