UGANDANS are very excited about the ongoing oil exploration in western and northern Uganda. However, as explorations go on, the issue of waste management needs to be addressed as early as possible since exploration activities are close to very important ecological areas including Lake Albert and Mur
UGANDANS are very excited about the ongoing oil exploration in western and northern Uganda.
However, as explorations go on, the issue of waste management needs to be addressed as early as possible since exploration activities are close to very important ecological areas including Lake Albert and Murchison Falls National Park among others.
During oil drilling, wastes commonly known as drilling cuttings are generated.
Drilling cuttings are fragments of rock created when a well is drilled into the seabed and underlying rock to reach oil and gas trapped below.
Depending on technical requirements, oil based or water based drilling fluids are used. These fluids have formulations ranging from aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and nickel.
Wastes that contain heavy metals if poorly managed pose a threat of leaching into groundwater, surface water contamination, and air contamination through soil.
It is imperative to understand the potential risks of drilling wastes associated with oil exploration activities. This is to both oil workers and the surrounding population and to identify safe handling, transport, treatment, and disposal methods that will ensure sustainable oil production.
For the Government to prepare for commercial oil production, the question of waste handling, treatment and disposal has to be adequately addressed. The Government is supposed to monitor their operations to ensure that things are done the right way.
On an institutional level, there is need to build capacity to handle challenges posed by such a new and large sector.
National Environment Management Association (NEMA) has an institutional mandate to ensure that the environment is protected and should have capacity to monitor the oil and gas sector.
NEMA therefore has to bring onboard professionals to monitor oil production operations.
Ideally, NEMA should have a technical team comprising chemical engineers, Industrial hygienists, environmental engineer and an Ecologist among others.
They should have training in hazardous waste operations to monitor activities of the oil and gas sector.
NEMA also needs to revise its national environmental standards to incorporate the new challenges. For example, there is need to set ambient air quality and soil contamination clean-up standards.
Drilling operations have also raised concerns about the healthy and safety of workers employed by the different oil companies.
These workers could be exposed to different chemicals including drilling fluids and therefore their safety has to be ensured.
The department of occupational health and Safety at the Ministry of Labour has to set occupational exposure standards in addition to monitoring the chemicals used by the different companies.
The department should always report the use of any chemicals considered hazardous and to ensure that exposure is minimised as much as possible.
In addition, when deciding on the type of drilling fluids used by oil companies.
The planners need to conduct comprehensive risk assessments of drilling fluid systems, considering health aspects in addition to environmental and safety aspects, and strike an appropriate balance between their potentially conflicting requirements.
Waste management, key to sustainability of Ugandaâ€™s Oil