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Report warns on handling of crude oil waste

By Macharia Kamau | December 13th 2016

Kenya is already grappling with the challenge of handling waste from the oil industry. Oil waste is a new menace whose handling is expected to be heightened as the country starts oil production next year.

Tullow, which readying itself to start production on a pilot basis mid-2017, currently has to move waste by road from Turkana to Machakos for safe destruction, which is some 650 kilometres.

The waste from the oil fields of Turkana is currently transported in trucks to the disposal site, a facility licensed by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and located in Stony Athi area. It takes a truck at least five days to travel to the oil field, collect the waste and return to the disposal site.

A new report notes that this has had the effect of pushing up the costs of waste disposal during the exploration phase.

The draft report by Kenya Petroleum Technical Assistance Programme (KEPTAP) and funded by the World Bank adds that the problem of waste from oil exploration will become more complex when the country gets into the commercial production phase, where the volumes will increase.

 “High temperature incineration remains the only sole methodology of handling hazardous waste (in Kenya). This technology, is however costly and Kenya does not have the capacity to handle the volumes produced by the oil drilling industry,” indicated the KEPTAP report, currently undergoing stakeholder discussion.

“The private sector cannot offer the solution as this is very expensive venture. The incineration sites only exist in Nairobi and this increases the cost of transport of the hazardous wastes.”

NEMA and other government agencies are working hand in hand with companies licensed to handle waste to ensure that all hazardous waste resulting from oil exploration is properly removed and transferred to treatment areas.

“Waste from the oil field is usually transported in NEMA licensed trucks to the disposal sites. These trucks cover long distances (over 650Km) on dust roads, with insecurity and thus make the cost of transportation very high, adding to the cost of waste disposal and eventually cost of oil and gas exploration.”

While the report said Kenya is ill prepared to handle waste from oil fields, local experts in the area disagree and say the country has the capacity to manage waste including the volume. Dr Philip Mwabe an environmental consultant reckons moving waste over long distances is a common practice in oil producing countries as long as adequate measures are put to prevent mishaps like spills.

“Kenya is among the few African countries that are best positioned to handle hazardous waste. We are far much ahead of countries like South Africa and Nigeria,” explained Mwabe.


“The materials that are being used for drilling have to be trucked a distance of 1,200 kilometres from Mombasa to the site, the oil produced will also be moved by truck over a similar distance. When you look at it from this perspective, then 650 kilometres is not much. There are many other markets that have centrally located disposal facilities and exploration companies have to truck them to these sites.”

Eng Patrick Obath, who is well-versed in oil and gas industry, noted that at the moment, setting up a disposal facility in Turkana would not make economic sense considering that the country is at its very early stages of becoming a producer. He however thinks it would be a worthy venture when commercial production starts.
“An incinerator is quite an expensive kit and it would not be cost-effective to have one in an area like Turkana at this point in time,” he said.

“I expect that when they go into full production they will put up an incinerator that can be used by different exploration and production companies operating in the proximity and hence save on costs.”

Charles Wanguhu, Coordinator, Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas Platform (KCSPOG) said Kenya lacked experience in handling oil waste and needed to evaluate all possible angles and go for the best.

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