Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja says since everyone is aware of nature and environmental vulnerabilities, there is a need to ensure that the environment is protected as participants exploit oil and gas.
The government has launched the long-awaited national oil spill preparedness and response mechanism that will address any eventualities arising from oil spill incidents.
Among other purposes, the plan seeks to provide management of oil spills on the receiving environment in Uganda, including on land and into water bodies, and also for the health and safety of oil spill responders and the public during oil spill response operations.
Launching the plan on Friday, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja said since everyone is aware of nature and environmental vulnerabilities, there is a need to ensure that the environment is protected as participants exploit oil and gas.
“Prevention is better than cure,” she stressed noting that the oil spill contingency plan will only be effective if it is publicized such that the public knows what to do in case of an oil spill.
“People in areas where the pipeline passes will be sensitized to know what to do and what not to do when a spill occurs.”
Minister of Energy and Mineral Development Ruth Nankabirwa said the contingency plan was drafted after Ugandan experts took time to learn from mistakes made by other countries involved in oil drilling.
“We are slow but sure and moving forward to ensure that there are no casualties,” she added.
National Environmental Management Authority Executive Director Dr Akankwasa Barirega said preventing oil spills is the best strategy to protect human lives, and save the environment, investment assets inclusive.
“The contingency plan is to manage worst-case scenarios,” he added.
Oil spills may be caused by releases of crude oil from tankers, offshore platforms, drilling rigs, wells, and refined petroleum products or the spill of any oily refuse or waste oil. They can have far-reaching disastrous consequences for the environment, communities, human and wildlife health as well as the economy.
The impact of oil spills depends on factors like the size and duration of the spill, the location, whether it happens on water or land.
Apart from the bursting tankers and pipelines that eventually cause fire, the most prominent spills have been recorded as happening in water bodies in different parts of the globe.
The Albertine Graben, where the oil activities are concentrated, is one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the world, with thousands of animal, bird, and plant species, including 52 percent of all African birds, and 39 percent of African animals.
Ernest Rubondo, the Petroleum Authority of Uganda Executive Director, said the plan caters to all the stages of the petroleum value chain, from the exploration and production region, through to the transportation and refinery.
For adequate management of any incident, the plan provides for tiered preparedness and response, in line with the scope of the likely effect.
The three-tiered structure allows those involved in contingency planning to describe how an effective response to any oil spill will be provided, from small operational spillages to a worst-case release on land or water.
Tier 1 is the lowest response level and may be restricted to a site. The licensees, operators, and other persons responsible are expected to be able to fully respond to this level of spill incident.
The second level, Tier 2, refers to small-to-medium impact incidents. Under this, the operators should have the capacity to respond immediately or mobilize support from other licensees to handle this spill.
In some circumstances, support from government, regional and international services may be required.
The worst-case scenario is the large-scale spill where licensees or operators in petroleum activities, midstream operations, and petroleum supply are required to have a membership with suppliers of Tier 3 spill services and equipment suppliers.
In case of an incident, the government may also decree that resources belonging to any person in the country may be taken over for use to address this incident. The framework also gives guidance on identifying the hazard and assessing the vulnerability and risk.
The oil spill contingency plan comes at a crucial time as Uganda joins the league of Oil Producing Countries.