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The Observer -

Nwoya, Buliisa residents live in fear of oil waste

Written by Edward Ssekika Thursday, 20 February 2014 22:11

Written by Edward Ssekika Thursday, 20 February 2014 22:11 With evidence of unauthorized disposal, could Uganda

With evidence of unauthorized disposal, could Uganda be sitting on a time bomb?

Last year, government awarded its first production licence to the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (Cnooc). The award signifies that the country is moving from oil exploration to production and is soon expected to join a coveted list of oil-producing countries.

However, unlike in the exploration phase, production comes with a lot of waste, with potential to pollute the fragile ecosystem if not properly handled. This has prompted debate on how the waste is being handled.

There are cases of illegal disposal, and accusations that oil companies are hiring unlicensed companies to transport and store oil waste. Some analysts are warning that oil waste management or mismanagement will make or break Uganda s petroleum industry.

In this three-part series, Edward Ssekika finds out how the oil waste is being handled and explores the history and evidence of continued dumping.

When in 2009, Heritage Oil illegally buried truckloads of oil waste in Nwoya county, in the then Amuru district, little did the country know that it was the beginning of a bigger oil waste management crisis . Five years later, the oil frontline districts of Buliisa and Nwoya continue to witness other incidents of oil waste dumping.

The Observer -

Nwoya, Buliisa residents live in fear of oil waste

Written by Edward Ssekika Thursday, 20 February 2014 22:11

Okumu Oryem, the Nwoya district chairman, notes that oil waste is sometimes dumped on people s land with neither the consent of the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) nor land owners.

Oil waste is being thrown everywhere in the district, which is putting the lives of our people at risk, Okumu says. His assertions are fortified by vivid cases of unauthorized dumping that have remained stuck in people s memories here.

No pearl

Mid last year, Peal Engineering company was reported to have dumped oil waste on someone s land without consent in Padit East LC-I, Padit East village, Purungo sub-county, Nwoya district. However, Total E&P Uganda, the main operator in the area, downplayed it, arguing that what was dumped in Padit was simply murram which was being used in construction of drill pads.

Before Total could fully explain the Padit dumping, liquid oil waste was deposited at Wiamono trading centre by Epsilon, another Total-contracted company. There are also reports that when Neptune Oil s licence expired last year and it abandoned its Rhino camp, the company had abandoned waste in Aviv1 one of its two dry wells and the area is yet to be cleared.

In Buliisa, Saracen, a security company that provides security to Tullow camps, was also reported to have been involved in dumping last year. The company allegedly dumped domestic waste from its camp in Kisimo cell, Buliisa town council, instead of transporting the waste to the neighbouring Hoima district where it was supposed to be disposed of.

Bill Pelser, the managing director Saracen, regrets the dumping, telling The Observer recently:

It was unfortunate; we cleaned it up and apologised to the affected communities.

Douglas Oluoch, a peasant farmer in Purungo village, Nwoya district, on whose land Heritage buried oil waste, says he has spent five years in community isolation due to oil waste. Oluoch was given Shs 750,000 to allow the company bury the oil waste it had generated from exploration activities on his land.

The Observer -

Nwoya, Buliisa residents live in fear of oil waste

Written by Edward Ssekika Thursday, 20 February 2014 22:11

He says he has been isolated in the village, because many think the waste that was buried is toxic and has since contaminated his land.

I can t sell any produce from my land; people think it is toxic, he says. Tired of isolation, he now appeals to either oil companies or government to buy his piece so that he can relocate to another area.

In Nwoya, where most of the dumping has occurred, it is blamed on French oil giant Total E&P, the main player here, that contracts small companies to transport and store drill waste from exploration sites to waste consolidation sites. Many of these firms, to cut their commercial costs , dump waste wherever they can find space, leaving communities worried.

Robert Byaruhanga, an environmentalist and a programme officer at the African Institute for Energy Governance (Afiego), notes that despite concerted efforts by government and oil companies to properly manage oil waste, incidents of dumping show the need to do more.

Oil waste, he stresses, poses a big threat to the fragile ecosystem and tourism in the Albertine rift. In 2012, Nema issued oil waste management guidelines, hinged on proper categorization of waste. Toxic waste is supposed to be kept in consolidation camps until government finds a scientific and environmentally-friendly mode of disposal.

Therefore, liquid or solid drill waste generated in exploration is transported and stored at the different waste consolidation sites. Some of these sites include Tangi in Nwoya, Ngara 1 and Kisinja in Buliisa.


Ngara waste consolidation site, is one of the largest approximately the size of a football pitch. Here, solid waste is kept differently from liquid. At one corner, there is a heap of solid waste covered with thick polythene material. Another corner has a rectangular, fenced-off, cemented pit of liquid waste, under an iron roof. Another small pit is surrounded with polythene material but not covered.

The Observer -

Nwoya, Buliisa residents live in fear of oil waste

Written by Edward Ssekika Thursday, 20 February 2014 22:11

Written by Edward Ssekika Thursday, 20 February 2014 22:11 Thethepeople




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Make or break

Dr Gerald Sawula Musoke, the deputy executive director of Nema, says the success or failure of the oil sector in Uganda will largely depend on the way the country manages its oil waste. Citing the example of Nigeria, Musoke says if oil waste is poorly managed, it will lead to pollution and destruction of the ecosystem, something that can spell doom for the country.

Poorly-managed toxic waste, coupled with other usual oil disasters like spills and blowouts, can find its way in water sources like streams and finally end up in Lake Albert, something that can harm the fishing industry. Nigeria s name never misses whenever the issue of the oil curse comes up, partly due to poor waste management, spills and blowouts.

These have caused severe pollution in the Niger Delta, wiping out the Ogoni land s ecosystem, contaminating water sources and ruining agriculture.

In his book, A Month And A Day: A Detention Diary, the Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa recounts the impact of unchecked oil exploitation on the environment in his native Ogoni land: Oil has turned Ogoni into a waste land: Lands, streams are totally and continually polluted; the atmosphere has been poisoned, charged as it is with hydrocarbon vapours. Acid rain, oil spillages and oil blowouts have devastated Ogoni territory The results of such unchecked environmental pollution and degradation include the complete destruction of the ecosystem, Saro-Wiwa wrote.

The outspoken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni environmental activists were in 1995 hanged after a military trial for their activism. Due to the prolonged and unchecked oil exploitation Saro-Wiwa further notes, Ogoni had no piped water and yet streams, the only source of drinking water, are coated with oil.

The Observer -

Nwoya, Buliisa residents live in fear of oil waste

Written by Edward Ssekika Thursday, 20 February 2014 22:11

You cannot collect a bucket of rainwater from the roofs; trees and grass all covered with oil. Men and women forced by hunger have to dig deep in oil to uproot already rotten yams and cassava, he wrote.

A few days before he was hanged, Saro-Wiwa, in an interview with UK s Channel 4 radio, said:

What used to be a bread basket of the Delta [Ogoni land] has now become polluted and infertile. All one sees and feels around is death. Environmental degradation has been a lethal weapon in the war against the indigenous Ogoni people, he said.

Although what Saro-Wiwa describes in his book and later in the interview are far from what is happening in Uganda, the country needs to take a serious lesson. Nkuba notes that though Uganda has not reached this level, unchecked disposal of waste is pointing to a worrying trend. So, the country needs to learn fast from the mistakes of others.

People living around the Niger Delta suffer from skin lesions and respiratory disease as well as cancer associated with pollution. Therefore, oil waste management requires a sober and scientific approach, because environmental dimension, mainly pollution, could be a curse to the future generations.

In the second part of our series, we reveal how oil companies are hiring unlicensed firms to transport and store oil waste and the risks such cutting corners practices poses for the country.

This Observer feature is published in partnership with Panos Eastern Africa, with funding from the European Union s Media for Democratic Governance and Accountability Project.