Turkana oil fields threaten public health, survey shows

Nema says health instructions issued to oil operators ignored; drillers accused of poor waste disposal

In Summary
  • Governor Nanok says the chemicals will seep into the soil, water and harm residents and livestock.
  • Turkana county head of Nema Jacob Asembo said that the Amosing 3 and Etiir oil wells are the most affected sites.
Tullow oil equipment at oil Ngamia 1, oil site in Lokichar Turkana.
Tullow oil equipment at oil Ngamia 1, oil site in Lokichar Turkana.

Residents of Turkana South and East face risks of exposure to harmful chemicals from oil extraction.

Authorities say the harmful chemicals have the potential to cause long-lasting impacts on the environment unless corrective measures are rapidly instituted.

This was revealed by a multi-agency team consisting of county government officials and their counterparts from Nema and Epra during a fact-finding mission conducted Wednesday at various oil wells in the area.

Turkana county head of Nema Jacob Asembo said that the Amosing 3 and Etiir oil wells are the most affected sites.

He said a raft of recommendations issued to the oil operators by the authority had not been fully complied with, hence posing danger to the area.

Asembo said the preliminary inspection had revealed possible seepage evidenced by visible discoloration of the ground and tear of the protective linings.

“The matter is very serious and there is a need to handle it in such a manner that responsibility is placed on the culpable agencies for binding action. The authority will serve both Tullow and Kenya oil teams with a comprehensive letter outlining the expected improvement orders,” he said.

Turkana county chief officer for environment and natural resources Moses Natome called on National Environment Management Authority to consider immediate revocation or non-renewal of the current license that permits the use of Twiga 1 station as a temporary waste consolidation area until Tullow finds a better solution to the issue.

“There is a possibility of mischief on the part of the oil operators since the company had a history of compliance with set standards in other jurisdictions they have operated, hence the need to compel adherence using all necessary means,” Natome said.

He urged the State Department of Petroleum and Minerals to work closely with the county government on the matter as measures for continuous monitoring are being instituted.

County director of environment Clement Nadio said that waste emanating from the oil drilling processes includes silicate water and synthetic oil-based mud.

He said since the commencement of Tullow Oil operations about nine years ago, the harmful oil wastes had not been disposed of accordingly despite various orders by the county government.

“The initial disposal method adopted by the oil operators was the disposal of the resultant wastes at the respective oil drilling sites prior to use of consolidated waste management site upon technical advice,” he said.

He decried lapses in executing the waste consolidation orders, with reports that use of unlicensed vehicles and other anomalies had been reported over the last few months.

“The issues arising from the blatant disregard of waste management best practices on the part of oil operators had been discussed by the County Environment Committee chaired by Turkana Deputy Governor Peter Lotethiro, hence the involvement of the county in the process to find lasting solutions to the problem,” Nadio said.

He said his directorate will independently collect samples for shipment to accredited laboratories to determine or rule out contamination, with funds set aside for the purpose. 

While assuring the residents that the county is fully in control of the situation, Nadio announced that appropriate legal action would be taken against Tullow if found to be contravening waste management protocols.

The visit comes at a time Governor Josphat Nanok has raised the alarm over improper dumping of oil waste and the need to avert the imminent environmental catastrophe by having the authorities take appropriate action.

Nanok complained about improper disposal of hazardous waste from oil operations at the South Lokichar oil basin.

He said effects of the toxic waste dumped at the Etiir well had become visible, having affected vegetation around the site.

“The national government has an obligation, including its contractors, to make sure that hazardous waste does not destroy our environment, harm our livestock, or does not affect lives of local pastoralists,” he said.

He questioned why the Ministry of Petroleum and Tullow had remained silent over the risk that the chemicals might seep into the soil and water and harm residents and livestock.


Edited by Henry Makori

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