A new era of environmental management in UgandaJune 18, 2021
Tom Okurut, executive director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), talks to The Energy Year about the agency’s role in the development of Uganda’s oil and gas industry and the key risks involved in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). NEMA is a semi-autonomous institution that co-ordinates, monitors, regulates and supervises environmental management in Uganda.
What is NEMA’s role in the development of Uganda’s oil and gas industry?
Once the government made the decision to extract oil in the natural parks, this meant that everyone who works on the regulatory aspect needed to come on board to make sure that the environmental best practices would continue. We took the risk and it is up to us to make sure that the oil activities like drilling, transportation and treatment proceed without negatively impacting the environment.
As one aspect of our work, we partnered with other institutions – namely, the Uganda Wildlife Authority; the ministries responsible for water and the environment, fisheries, energy, mineral development and lands; and local governments and all the districts within the Albertine Graben regarding regulations in oil and gas.
During the first exploration phase a lot of wells were drilled, which produced a lot of waste. In terms of dealing with this new type of waste, we had to learn what would work and what wouldn’t work. Companies also gave us access to their oilfields and drilling sites, where we were then able to train our people. In this way, we were able to decide what would be the best practice through issuance of certifications and create programmes to protect the environment.
It is important to note that for valued resources like minerals, once there is extraction there is going to be an inevitable structural change in the location. Our job is to make sure that change is as minimal as possible using specific control conditions in the certificates and licences.
Which are the key risks of the EACOP that have been studied by NEMA?
The biggest risk is to the ground and surface water. We do not want to compromise our fisheries or our freshwater sources. We need to prevent any contamination of the water because this has a multiplier impact. Also, the pipeline is passing through farms and wetlands, so it’s important to protect the land. There are risks because part of the pipeline is in the Albertine region, where seismic activity is frequent.
In the EACOP pipeline, we have insisted that they use systems with valves such that if there is a problem, only the petroleum products in that segment may flow out. The EACOP pipeline shall have multiple pumping stations and these stations shall have pressure measurements and any drop in pressure due to leakages can be detected. Also, the pipeline shall be lined to prevent corrosion that could lead to leaks. Overall, the pipeline will be digitally monitored coupled with consistent human inspections.
Of course, the community will be compensated if the pipe passes through their land or corridors. We have to find alternative ways to get people access to areas on the other side of the pipeline, as appropriate. There are also places where the new construction will affect the chimpanzee and monkey populations, so the developers will have to put in a connector path for the animals to climb and cross.
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