State takes a backseat in resolving Turkana oil impasse

President Uhuru Kenyatta officially unveils a commemorative plaque at the Ngamia 8 Oil Well in Nakukulas, Turkana County. The president flagged of four tanktainers setting off from Lokichar to the Kenya Petroleum Refineries Limited in Changamwe. [photo: Kevin Tunoi/Standard]
The national government is not one of the key signatories to the agreement expected to pave the way for resumption of work at the Turkana oil fields as the impasse at site continues.

The agreement, which will now be signed between the Turkana County Government, local MPs and Tullow Oil, is expected to get Kenya’s dreams of being an oil producer back on track after more than a month of suspended operations.

It would also prevent the closure of the Tullow Oil’s operations base at Kapese, which said it is running out essential supplies and would be forced to close in a week.

The state appears to have taken the backseat in the agreement and will also have minimal roles in the efforts that should see normalcy return to Lokichar.

SEE ALSO :Tullow Oil's Kenyan, Ugandan projects timelines slip

The absence of the national government as a signatory in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is despite one of the key grievances by the community being security, a function of the state. In the draft MOU, the county government, Tullow and the two MPs all have assigned roles geared at restoring and maintaining calm in the area.

The county government will be charged with beefing up security, where it will work together with the Ministry of Interior and Coordination.

Tame vocal MPs

The Petroleum ministry will witness the agreement as well as facilitate the set-up of a grievance management committee in Turkana and another one at the national level to handle issues escalated by the county committee.

“The parties agree to jointly work together towards addressing issues underlying the establishment of an enabling safe operational environment to support oil and gas operations in the county,” reads the agreement in part.

The agreement also appears to be making a bid to tame vocal MPs of Turkana South (James Lomemen) and Turkana East (Mohamed Ali Lokiru) who have over time agitated for community rights as the project is rolled out.

They led the community to protest against insecurity in June and disrupted the trucking of crude from Lokichar to Mombasa as well as other operations at the Kapese Integrated Operational Base.

They had noted that the government has been providing heavy security to the oil fields and trucks that carry oil while the community was left vulnerable to bandit attacks.

After the agreement is signed, the MPs will now be tasked with the promoting the oil project as well as Tullow’s operations within their communities.

“The MP for Turkana South his Turkana East counterpart shall conduct community-wide forums in theor respective areas where the operations are ongoing to affirm their support for resumption of contractor’s operations and to promote the broader community support for the resumption of the contractor’s operations,” reads the draft.

According to the agreement, Tullow will only go back to the oil fields after all conditions, including beefing up security, the community outreach forums and the set-up of the grievance management committees are fulfilled.

The company has decried the costs it has incurred since mid-June when the protests began it was forced to stop work at the camp, which runs into hundreds of millions of shillings.

More costs

A Ministry of Petroleum official on Thursday said the cost incurred paying for leased equipment lying idle on site could have reached Sh1 billion.

The firm has said the pilot project is expected to resolve the issues cited by the community over the recent weeks as well as others that might crop up, clearing the way for developing the fields for commercial production, which is expected to start by 2022.

“We also need a calm and secure operating environment in Turkana. The disruptions that you have seen recently are about the local community expressing their need for security using our operation to National Government. Early Oil Pilot Scheme (EOPS) gives them a point of focus,”  said Tullow Oil Chief Executive Paul McDade during a briefing on Wednesday after the firm published its results for the half year to June.

“There is a good dialogue taking place between government and community and we are encouraging that conversation because we want it complete before we start the Full Field Development.”

He said EOPS is all about derisking the main project. “As we work our way through these issues using EOPS, when we get to the Final Investment Decision towards the end of next year, it will be a much easier decision,” McDade added.

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