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Tullow Oil protests Nema's order on waste disposal.

figure By EDWIN OKOTH British oil explorer Tullow Oil is embroiled in a tussle with the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) over the disposal of hazardous waste in Turkana County.The disposal of oil-laced drill cuttings, which Tullow claims could cost more than S billion, has put it at loggerheads with Nema, which gave the explorer tight timelines to take care of the waste and even recommended which firms should be used to handle them.

Tullow disputed both the methodology Nema wanted it to use in getting rid of the cuttings from Twiga 1 site near Lomokamor, Turkana South, as well as the firms the state agency fronted for the job.In papers filed before the environmental tribunal, Tullow said Nema's suggestion that the drill cuttings should be transported elsewhere for destruction was both bad for the environment and uneconomical.

The proposal to have the rocks and mud laced with synthetic oil transported by trucks to Migori, Machakos or Mombasa counties would trigger even more protest from the counties as much as it did not make environmental sense, according to the explorer.Nema wrote to Tullow on August 7, 2018 giving it 14 days to remove all the accumulated drill cuttings from Twiga 1 site and transport them elsewhere for alternative treatment and disposal.

Nema proposed Environmental Combustion and Consultants Limited (ECCL), a company whose facility at Stoni Athi River had been destroyed by fire in 2017 and three other firms Bamburi Cement (Mombasa), Bamburi Cement Athi River and Envirosafe Limited to be given the job."The directive by Nema to move the waste and the recommended incineration treatment does not holistically deal with the potential pollution and amounts to transferring a challenge from Turkana County to a different country, which could expose Tullow Oil to a future environmental liability by the communities proximal to the proposed facilities," the explorer argued in the affidavits presented before the Environmental Tribunal in August.

Tullow said the cost of transporting the drill cuttings alone to Bamburi Cement will take approximately 25 trucks per day running for 12 months at a cost of $30 million (S billion), making it a costly venture.The explorer also argues that the proposed incineration recommended by Nema is not a suitable method for treatment as it is not a method used internationally by more advanced and developed oil producing nations.

The question of what to do with the mountain of ash from the burning of the oil-laced mud also complicated the Nema-fronted method. Tullow Oil Kenya managing director Martin Mbogo told Sunday Nation that the firm is still in talks with Nema to reach a technically and environmentally sound solution' on the disposal of the drill cuttings.

"Whereas treatment of drill cuttings either at site or otherwise is expensive, Tullow, in line with global best practices, is committed to maintaining safe and sustainable environmental standards throughout its operations. "Indeed, Tullow continues to engage the relevant authorities with a view to identifying a suitable and sustainable solution that provides a treatment and disposal option for the cuttings," Mr Mbogo wrote back in response to queries over the tussle.

It remains unclear why Nema wanted the waste removed using trucks and handles far from Turkana. It is also not clear why the state agency fronted the firms to handle the multibillion contracts.

Mr Mbogo told the tribunal that it had already advised Nema on the destruction of ECCL's facility in Athi River but the agency still insisted on recommending the firm whose new waste management facility in Migori and Machakos counties were neither physically ready to receive the drill cuttings nor were they licensed to enable Tullow to own/operate them a hazardous waste disposal site.The disposal of the waste which the Tullow manager admitted before the tribunal to be potentially hazardous due to the use of synthetic oil-based fluid, which introduces hydrocarbons in the drill cuttings, has been a bone of contention between Tullow and the local residents, who have blocked the site more than once protesting the dumping.

In March 2017, the community staged protests and blocked Twiga 1 site to compel Tullow to stop dumping the waste at the area. A truce was reached in August 2017 through an MOU that saw the site reopened before it was shut down again in March 2018. Its inaccessibility formed one of the explorer's argument for not being able to comply with the directive to evacuate the wastes.

After changing its drilling technology from the use of the safe water-based bud to drill to the use of synthetic oil, Tullow engaged a firm, Kurrent Technologies Limited, which carried a Best Practice Environment Option and recommended thermal desorption (a heated vacuum treatment) as the best method for treating the drill cuttings. This way, the treated cuttings would be used as a road base for construction or buried on site just like the water-based cuttings were disposed.

It is not clear how much Tullow used to instal the Thermal Desorption Unit in May 2015 but barely two months later, Nema wrote to the explorer and ordered the plant decommissioned after Tullow had treated some 1600 tonnes of the waste on the site. The costs will add to the exploration bill which narrows Kenya's yield from the oil resources when commercial production begins.

Tullow, which holds a 50 percent participation interest in the country's oil exploration Blocks 13T and 10BB together with Africa Oil Corporation and Total Energy and Petroleum, claims back money spent in the exploration from the government. COMPLIANCEAn audit set to verify the Sh200 billion said to have been spent in the Turkana oilfields has been ongoing with the results set to be released later this month.

Nema, which had visited the Twiga 1 site in February 2018, gave Tullow a compliance letter for the site before making a U-turn in March to decline the application to change the site as a storage for the waste, citing unforeseen environmental and social risks that were likely to occur as a result of the dumping of the drill cuttings on Twiga 1 site.'The drill cuttings remain lumped in Turkana and the challenge of managing the waste is bound to grow even bigger when Tullow goes to full production, with the Final Investment Decision expected to be made in the first half of next year.
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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Dec 16, 2018
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