By HSE East Africa | Saturday Sep 30, 2017
Two Ugandan government ministries and the National Environment Management Authority are once again under the spotlight for failing to enact new laws to regulate oil exploration and development.
The government in 2014 decided to repeal the National Environment Act and put in place policies for social and environmental impact assessments related to the oil and gas sector. But there is growing concern that the Ministry of Water and Environment and the Energy the Ministry are dragging their feet, delaying the tabling of a bill to Parliament to have the National Environment Act 1998 repealed.
Oil industry players and environmental activists say failure to put in place a new environmental regulatory regime has exposed the country's environment to danger. Reports indicate that NEMA is still stuck with a huge stockpile of mud cuttings from the drilling of oil which cannot be disposed of in the absence of policies and laws specific to oil and gas. Dickens Kamugisha, the chief executive officer at African Institute for Energy Governance says government continues to sign production sharing agreements and award of production licenses under archaic laws. Kamugisha, a lawyer, says there is a danger that the companies may in future fail to abide by perceived stricter regulations having signed agreements under outdated environment laws. The consequences could be even much higher in the coming phases of the planned construction of the refinery, crude oil pipeline and other infrastructure in preparation of oil by 2020.
International Environment Group- World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has in the past warned that extracting oil and gas deposits can result in lasting damage to the environment. WWF said oil and gas exploration and development in an ecologically sensitive area like the Albertine Graben causes disruption of migratory pathways, degradation of important animal habitats, and oil spills - which can be devastating to the animals and humans who depend on these ecosystems. It is emerging that past oil explorations and latest developments in the Albertine are being undertaken under some guidelines by NEMA in absence of a comprehensive law.
Sources indicate that the Oil exploration activities subject to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and social impact assessments have been going on a case by case basis - on each exploration area in absence of policies guiding the sector. The danger, according to the source, is that companies may not be following uniform standards. New environment laws were expected to usher in stronger safeguards against pollution and waste arising from the oil and gas activities. They are supposed to guide how social and Environment Impact Assessments are conducted.
Sources blame the delay in ushering in the new regulatory regime for the environment bill on what appears like an infighting between National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and its parent Ministry of Water and Environment. They indicated that NEMA had had all the technical input in the proposed law but noted that the Ministry of Water and Environment had stood in their way.
Honey Malinga, the Commissioner Energy and Mineral Development acknowledged to the fact that there are concerns about the new environmental laws. He, however, blamed the delay on what he called technical issues on the side of NEMA and the Environment Ministry.
David Taylor, the director Eastern Europe, Africa and America with RSk Group whose company is working with Total on the environment and geological issues said the industry would be happy to work under a defined environment legal regime to avoid environment-related catastrophes and controversies associated with Oil and gas developments.
State Minister for Environment, Dr Goretti Kitutu in August told URN that she had been tasked by President Yoweri Museveni to present the Bill to repeal the 1998 Environment Act before the end of September. The Bill was yet to be tabled in Parliament for first reading by the time of filing this report.