TURKANA, KENYA: Disquiet is brewing in Turkana County that might jeopardise the plan for Tullow Oil to resume operations at its Lokichar oil fields.
The Petroleum and Mining Ministry last week said it had agreed with Tullow on the resumption of operations after it suspended its activities for more than a month.
The ministry reported that the firm had already started mobilising personnel and equipment to go back to resume work at its base in Kapese.
Some local leaders are, however, not happy with the move. While they support the resumption of activities in Lokichar, they argue that non-consultation as well as failure to address the grievances that led to the standoff since mid-June are yet to be resolved.
The stalled activities included the transportation of crude oil to Mombasa under the Early Oil Pilot Scheme.
Turkana South MP James Lomemen, his Turkana East counterpart Ali Lokiru and Lokori Kochodin Ward Member of County Assembly Benedict Lokamar said the local community was not involved in the decision to restart the operations.
They warned that some outstanding issues were yet to be resolved despite the Government’s push to have Tullow resume operations.
The leaders also appeared to be moving the goal post by making fresh demands on local content.
“We are not aware of the resumption of oil operations in the area. There are a number of things we have not agreed with Tullow oil, especially on the issue of local content,” Lomenen said.
“We appreciate the fact that the Government has restored security in the area, but Tullow Oil must assure the community they are ready to cooperate with them.”
He added that should Tullow appear not keen on ‘cooperating with the community’ he would petition the Government to withdraw its contract with Tullow and advertise the oil tender afresh.
Such a move would, however, be complex and even costly considering the firm and its partners have always met its contract obligations as well as invested billions over the time they have been Lokichar exploring for oil.
“If Tullow oil cannot heed to the demands of the local people, we will tell them to pack and go. We have a number of interested contractors who can take up the job. In fact, we will advise the government to discontinue contract agreement with the firm and engage other oil companies,” Lomenen said.
Tullow oil was expected to resume operations this week to end a month-long stalemate that halted the transportation of crude oil from Lokichar basin in Turkana to Mombasa.
On Tuesday, House Energy Committee met the Petroleum and Mining Cabinet Secretary John Munyes seeking an update on the stalemate surrounding oil conflicts.
“Our talks with several stakeholders are fruitful. We are working around the clock to ensure the oil transportation resumes soon. We are reaching to the leaders and community members to find an amicable solution to address some of the contentious issues raised by the community. This will end the disruption of operation,” Munyes said.
On Monday last week, Tullow Oil started preparations to resume work in Lokichar following an agreement between the company and the Ministry of Petroleum.
In a statement, Chief Administration Secretary John Mosonik said Tullow and the ministry had agreed that the ‘works commence forthwith without undue delay.
“The contractor (Tullow Oil) dispatched an advance team on Mondays, August 5, to Turkana County,” he said.
Eng Mosonik said the ministry would set-up a two-tier grievance management system comprising a committee in Turkana to handle issues raised by locals and another mother at the national level to handle issues escalated by the county committee. “The Government has further resolved to establish a two-tiered system framework that will provide communities living in Turkana and Tullow Oil with avenues of addressing any emerging issues and concerns,” said Mosonik.
The National and Escalation Committee (NEC) and Turkana Grievances Management Committee (TGMC) will tackle oil standoffs in future.
NEC will draw its members from relevant ministries, county government, county assembly representative, MPs representative and Tullow oil (contractor).
The TGMC organ will be represented by area MPs, MCAs, Turkana County government, the business community, liaison officers, Tullow oil, Turkana Professional Association, business community, civil society, opinion leaders and people living with disabilities.
Mobilising personnel and equipment to the site is in itself a complex affair that may take time as some of the expatriate staff will have to fly to Kenya for Tullow and its suppliers.
A memorandum of understanding, which outlines the resumption of petroleum operation in block 10BB and 13T that was expected to have been signed by three parties among them the Ministry of Interior, Petroleum and Mining and Tullow Oil, has not been signed due to technicalities, including claims that it is not legally binding.
According to a source at the Ministry of Petroleum, the document had passed through the office of the Attorney General and underwent some changes, but the Government’s chief legal advisor said it does not meet the legal thresholds.
This has led the ministry to propose a return to work formula with the contractor.