Just so the animals in national parks can have uninterrupted sessions of mating, the National Environment Management Authority has asked oil companies to drill during the day and keep their lights off.

This rule is part of a wide range of directives that Nema has issued to companies to limit the impact of the oil activities within the national parks. “In order to further protect the environment, Nema has issued new rules to oil companies operating in the national parks. Today oil companies will drill during the day and we have told them not to drill at night. And they have to switch off all the lights at night because light at night stops animals from mating and this could limit the reproduction cycle,” Tom Okurut, the executive director of Nema, said.

He was speaking at a workshop organised by the Economic Policy Research Centre on the challenges that oil presents to the country’s environment at Serena hotel. Uganda has so far discovered 6.5 billion barrels of oil in less than half the area thought to be rich in oil. A number of the wells are found in sensitive ecosystems. For example, wells such as Jobi and Ngege, are found within the Murchison Falls national park.

The government has already come up with an oil-spill contingency plan, which will guide the country in the event of a spill. Total E&P, the company operating in the main sensitive areas of the Albertine graben, has promised to keep responsible in its activities, using equipment that the animals will feel comfortable with Tourism is now Uganda’s main foreign exchange earner, with players in the industry saying it is a matter of time before it fetched $2bn a year. Nema has also banned white or red-coloured vehicles from going through the park, because these colours are too bright and animals tend to stop feeding when they see them; they, instead, focus on the vehicles.

Okurut said all drilling rigs must have environmental colours, which are normally green to blend well with the colour of the environment. Dozith Abeinomugisha, the acting commissioner in the petroleum directorate in the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, said that oil companies will have to build bigger well-pads in order to avoid drilling many appraisal wells.

Usually, a company drills the main well. However, because oil flows towards other directions, the companies are forced to drill other wells, called appraisal wells, a distance away from the main well in order to capture the maximum amount of oil possible.

The usual well-pad stretches 100 feet by 100 feet. The companies will have to build bigger pads in order to minimise movement within the environment. Abeinomugisha also said that oil companies will be compelled to use blow-out preventers during production.

When there is a blowout, the preventers automatically shut down the well. In addition, pipelines are going to be buried and insulated so that there is no heat lost and minimal impact on the environment. Abeinomugisha said that the country needs to use high-level technology to limit the impact on environment.

Okurut said: “We are trying to engage companies that will be licensed [in the ongoing round of licensing] to come up with smart technology so that we can minimize the impact.”

Phillipe Bouzet, the environmental manager at Tullow Uganda, said there would be hazardous waste in the development phase, because volumes are going to be much larger. He said there is need to ensure that lives are protected.

“If a fisherman on Lake Albert cannot find fish anymore, they will have to shift maybe to charcoal production to eke a living, which could affect the environment,” he said.

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