Leaders accuse Tullow Oil of illegal disposal of waste

 Tullow Oil Kenya

Goats and sheep at a water point provided by Tullow Oil Kenya Company in Kodekode village, Turkana County on February 7, 2022.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Mr Ekasukout Lomojong, a resident of Lomokamar village in South Lokichar Basin, has been losing his goats and sheep due to contaminated water.

At first, he could not figure out the exact wells where they quenched their thirst.

Leaving livestock unattended is common among pastoralists.

But when he lost 90 goats and sheep after they drank from a water point in Kang'ing'olemong'in in Lokichar Ward, he raised the alarm.

Public outcry attracted the attention of local leaders and officials from the Turkana County Government, who visited the village to assess the situation.

It was established that most watering holes dried up during the drought and, when it finally rained, surface runoff polluted with hazardous waste from oil wells seeped underground, contaminating water sources.

County government officials have laid the blame on Tullow Oil, accusing it of opaque practices and not involving the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) in a risk assessment of waste disposal sites.

Mr Paul Erupe, a local herder, decried the lack of a reliable water source for his livestock.

“I have little hope that things will change when Tullow Oil returns after halting operations for three years because they know our problems but rarely involve us in decision-making,” Mr Erupe said, adding that local villagers had not benefited from their communal land as they lack title deeds.

Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai said that before Tullow Oil can embark on the commercial exploration stage, which will see Kenya extract and export crude oil, it was critical to meet again with the firm’s officials to discuss their operations.

“I will this week hold a meeting with Tullow Group CEO Rahul Dhir to discuss ways of making their operations more transparent and involving all stakeholders including the local community and the county government,” Mr Lomorukai said.

He accused a section of leaders from the region of hatching a plot to bar the county government from pushing for the interests of locals.

“These tactics that some leaders have been using to enrich their cronies and completely deny local communities their rightful benefits won't work this time round," he said.

The governor pointed out that for the oil project to succeed, Tullow Oil together with officials from the national and county governments must strengthen coordination efforts.

In July last year, during a meeting with Mr Lomorukai and senior county officials, Mr Dhir had said as the firm shifted focus from exploration to production, better stakeholder collaboration was essential to avoid the risk of “stranded assets”.

He assured the governor that the field development plan, which was submitted to the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum and the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) for approval, was “robust” and designed to be successful.

A field development plan is a proposal for how a firm intends to develop a field and manage the associated risks.

Mr Enock Paule from Kapese village in Lokichar Ward said lack of land ownership documents had seen their community grazing fields fenced off for exploration activities, forcing them to drive their livestock to insecure fields where bandits from neighbouring counties raided at will.

“We have taken the initiative and elected 15 people to represent us on land matters. I was elected the chairman while Mr Peter Eregae, Mr Titus Ekai, and Ms Catherine Eregae are vice chairman, secretary, and treasurer, respectively," Mr Paule said.

These officials, with support from the county government, the Agency for Turkana Development Initiative, and the Kenya Oil and Gas Working Group will be tasked to ensure the land is registered, adjudicated, surveyed, and a title deed issued.

Members of the Senate Committee On Energy, speaking during a tour of the South Lokichar Basin in September last year, had urged the State Department for Petroleum and Tullow Oil to ensure that local communities benefit from exploration activities through the development of infrastructure such as roads, schools, hospitals, and colleges to uplift their living standards.

On the issue of land, officials from the State Department of Petroleum assured the committee that they would liaise with the National Land Commission to ensure Tullow Oil pays the community for its lease through the county government.

Lands, Physical Planning, Housing and Urban Areas Management Executive Peter Akono the devolved unit in collaboration with the national government will ensure locals register and regularise their land.