We wish to clarify some issues relating to oil exploration in the protected areas following publication of the story, "No dumping oil waste in parks, say Acholi elders" (Daily Monitor, January 3).
Right from the beginning when oil companies applied for licenses to carry out exploration activities in the protected areas, waste management was one of the key issues that were identified as crucial.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports clearly spelt out mitigation measures against oil waste, and Uganda Wildlife Authority's planning and oil monitoring teams have always been vigilant in carrying out spot inspections to ensure that the measures are strictly implemented.
Right from the start, Uganda Wildlife Authority embarked on a process of putting in place policies and guidelines that would ensure oil companies are compliant to the measures in place. With oil exploration taking place at multiple sites, UWA together with other relevant government agencies that form the multi-agency National Oil Monitoring Committee, advised that the oil companies containerise all oil waste in designated areas outside the national parks as a final disposal solution is agreed upon by NEMA.
Essentially, this meant that the companies would collect oil waste from all the drill pads and put them in huge containers located in specific designated areas outside the national parks referred to as Waste Containerisation Sites. Oil waste is currently being containerised at the Tangi Site near Pakwach in the north and at the Ngara Site near Bugungu in the south. The oil is being containerised awaiting results of ongoing studies which will recommend the final disposal procedures of the waste.
UWA can never allow dumping of oil waste in the protected areas because that would mean failure in our mandate to protect the integrity of Uganda's natural heritage. UWA has a strong oil monitoring team in place which has undertaken capacity building study visits to traditional oil producing countries like Gabon, Canada and Norway.
A cardinal rule that UWA strictly enforces is that the companies must remove all oil waste (includes mud cuttings and drill waste water) from the protected areas within one month after completion of exploration activities.
According to the oil guidelines developed by UWA and shared with all stakeholders, oil companies must have approved waste management plans before commencing any activity within a protected area. The guidelines also provide direction on how oil companies should handle oil from vehicles and waste generated from the presence of humans in the parks.
Given the fact that protected areas are big, the UWA oil guidelines also require oil companies to display documentation showing movement of waste from the point it is being generated to the point where it is containerised or disposed of. This is meant to ensure that the waste is not dumped in the remote areas of the national parks or wildlife reserves.
In conclusion, UWA would like to advise leaders in the oil-rich areas not to be manipulated by people who wish to create unnecessary panic among the public by creating the impression that government agencies like UWA and NEMA have failed in their duties to monitor oil activities.
UWA is strong on the ground and is ready to move mountains in protecting the integrity of the national parks. We believe the Ugandan public which entrusted us with this mandate expects nothing less.
Ms Nsubuga is the Public Relations Manager, Uganda Wildlife Authority.