Tullow Oil sued for Sh284bn over ‘environment violence’

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Some 43 residents from Turkana County, among them children, have sued British oil explorer Tullow Kenya, seeking compensation and a Sh284 billion environmental bond from the company for what they have termed “environmental violence”, in the latest setback for the oil giant.

The residents Wednesday moved to the Environment and Land Court in Lodwar, accusing the oil firm of destroying their environment and their livelihoods through hazardous environmental activity and other acts and omissions.

They say the activities of the firm over the years have adversely affected the environment, threatened their lives, health, the well-being and sustainable development within the county.

The residents have sued through lobby group Kituo Cha Sheria.

“The consequence of this violence has been severe human rights violations, violation of the right to a clean and healthy environment and a series of other environmental devastations against the people of Turkana County,” the lobby has said through lawyer John Mwariri.

Tullow is yet to respond to the suit.

The residents want the company forced to pay them damages for the harm and injury suffered due to the alleged hazardous activities and negligent acts of Tullow.

The assessment should be done by an independent panel in consultation with experts with expertise in the area of reparations and compensation for environmental damages and human rights abuses.

Further, the petitioners want the company forced to provide a suitable environmental bond of $2 billion (Sh284 billion) or any other amount as the court might deem fit to assure compliance with the orders.

It is also their prayer that Tullow should be fined Sh150,000 daily for any failure or delay in removing and disposing of all wastes and chemicals in the Lokichar Basin.

Mr Mwariri has submitted that the oil company dislocated communities, caused excessive environmental devastations through clearing of vegetation, dumping of hazardous wastes, oil spills leading to health and human diseases and the spread of diseases due to water, soil and vegetation pollution as well as the destruction of the habitat through negligent acts of dumping extractive wastes.

They accuse the company of using synthetic oil-based fluids that introduce hazardous hydrocarbons into the environment, which are harmful to the environment and to human beings living in the area and causing contamination of surface and underground water.

They want the court to compel Tullow under supervision of the Ministry of Energy and National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and community to periodically monitor groundwater, air and soil contamination in the Lokichar Basin for a period of five years.

The residents also want the company to file periodic quarterly reports in court and share it with them.

They also want a court order that the company is liable to meet future claims related to the environmental damage as a result of its activities in Lokichar Basin.

The lobby group says the residents have relied on credible reports, which indicate that the oil exploration in the Turkana area, particularly the drilling methods deployed by the firm have caused contamination of surface and underground water, air pollution and land degradation in the South Lokichar basin area.

The petition states that sometime in February 2015, hundreds of barrels of oil leaked at one of the company’s sites at Amosing and caused a heavy discharge into the environment.

Following the oil spill, the company allegedly failed to take adequate measures to oversee restoration, inform the community of the dangers posed and the environmental and social impact of the spill.

They cite a report of October 7, 2021 in which Nema, the County Government of Turkana, the Ministry of Petroleum and Tullow were allegedly featured as having decided that the oil firm would develop a detailed remediation plan of the South Lokichar field and engage licensed hazardous waste handlers to treat contaminated high-density polythene (HDPE) linings and waste oil, which they have failed to do.

“All this was in breach of the right to a clean and healthy environment which includes the obligation to protect the environment for present and future generations,” lawyer Anthony Mulekyo says in an affidavit.

The residents are also seeking a declaration that the acts and omissions of Tullow during the exploratory drilling of oil and gas in Turkana constituted a hazardous environmental activity that is criminally punishable under Kenyan law.

It is their argument that the oil and gas exploration has not only led to the degradation of their environment, but has occasioned the death of their animals, the mainstay of the Turkana people and the source of their food.

Further, the exploration has led to the declining of indigenous herbs on which they traditionally feed their livestock thus hindering their access to food and economic wellbeing.