NEMA has drafted a contingency plan for a possible oil spillage ahead of production expected to start in three years.
By Francis Kagolo
The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has drafted a contingency plan for a possible oil spillage ahead of production expected to kick off in three years.
NEMA boss Dr. Tom Okurut explained that the contingency plan focused on putting in place measures to avoid an oil spillage but also detection mechanisms and a quick alert system in case of a problem.
Okurut said the plan would outline roles and responsibilities for each stakeholder right from the village level.
“The plan was meant to be launched in December  but there were some delays. It’s almost complete now and we expect to have drills next month [May]. It will be out before production starts,” Okurut said in an interview.
He cited a few provisions in the plan, including the requirement for oil companies to ensure safe transportation of oil, be it on the lake, through the pipeline or by train.
“Their barges must be containerized to have oil transported not at once but in stages. This means that little oil will spill into the lake in case of damage to the barge.”
Besides, he said only pipelines with valves in-between will be allowed to carry oil.
This is because valves work on pressure and one can easily arrest the problem at a certain point by stopping to pump the pressure. This controls the volume of oil flowing through the pipeline in case of an emergency, thus reducing the damage an oil spill would cause.
Residents, local leaders and other government official will also be mandated to take quick action in case of a spillage.
“If a pipeline passes through your garden and it gets a leakage, we shall expect you to be the first person to report the case,” Okurut said.
Commercial deposits of oil and gas, which currently stands at 3.5 billion barrels, were discovered in the Albertine Graben.
The world has recorded numerous oil spills, the last being the Gulf oil spill which occurred when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico on April 22, 2010.
This has been described as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The spill killed 11 people within days and by the time the well was capped on July 15, 2010, an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf.
Experts say an oil spillage would be disastrous in the Albertine Graben because the area is dominated by a rich ecosystem with a vibrant tourism potential. There are numerous water bodies including Lake Albert, River Nile and other small rivers, forests like Budondo and a national park rich in biodiversity.
It is said that oil moves fast on water, forming a layer on top that can suffocate aquatic organisms and affect breeding grounds for fish and habitats for wildlife like birds.
Environmentalists have often raised fears that oil production would affect the rich eco-system especially because some wells are near Murchison Falls national park that is reach in endangered animal species like elephants and lions.
But Dr. Okurut yesterday allayed the fears, saying necessary measures had been taken to protect the environment.
“Currently there is no activity taking place in the oil region without an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). We have been so strict in that building a mere camp for workers also requires one to have an approve EIA first,” Okurut said.
“The situation so far is under control. We banned flaring because we found out that it had negative impact on the environment.”
Besides the oil spill contingency plan, NEMA last year also passed strict guidelines for waste management for all oil companies to follow.
They include keeping at least 500m from a usable underground or ground water source to the burial site for oil waste.
NEMA drafts oil spill contingency plan