Since the discovery of oil and gas in the Albertine graben, management of oil waste has been a thorny issue not only for the oil - host communities but also environmentalists and other stakeholders.
In order to strengthen the management of waste, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has enacted Regulations, which sets tough rules in the transportation, treatment and disposal of oil waste in the Albertine graben.
The Petroleum (Waste Management) Regulations, 2019 that were recently gazatted, sets hefty fines for companies involved in irresponsible and unauthorized handling of oil waste.
The Regulations bars oil companies from handling waste generated during oil exploration or production. Instead, the Regulations require oil companies also known as licencees to contract another company or entity - a petroleum waste handler, to manage the transportation, storage, treatment or disposal of petroleum waste.
"A petroleum waste handler shall not treat or dispose petroleum waste without a license granted by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA)," the Regulations reads in part.
Last year, a report by civil society organizations titled, "A state of oil and gas waste management facilities and environmental compliance," revealed that by 2014, Uganda's stockpile of oil waste stood at 39,625 tons and 8,227 cubic of solid and liquid waste respectively. Oil waste if not properly handled has the potential to pollute the fragile ecosystem and damage tourism
Analysts have for long punched holes in the law regulating oil waste management of lacking severe sanctions. Now, the Regulations impose hefty fines for non-compliance.
For instance, according to the regulations, a person who disposes petroleum waste from vessels including lorries and boats to unapproved disposal site or water, commits an offense and is liable upon conviction to a fine of Shs100 million or imprisonment for ten years or both.
The regulations also grant NEMA power to impose coercive fines for any non-compliance. According to the regulations the waste handler's license shall be valid for only one year but renewable.
The regulations further require oil companies to store petroleum waste onsite for a period not exceeding 3 months to only accumulate quantities that can be transported, treated or disposed and bans storage of untreated waste for more than 3 months.
The handler shall ensure that during transportation of the waste, there is no any leakage, littering of the waste or emission of noxious smell or harmful odour and shall follow only approved designated routes approved by NEMA. Regulations require, a petroleum handler to provide financial security in form of a bank guarantee, performance bonds, and escrow agreements to NEMA to guarantee environmental remediation.
Previous dumping scenarios
The regulations come at a time of repeated complaints of unauthorized dumping oil waste. For instance, in 2014 Heritage Oil - one of the then oil companies, buried truckloads of oil waste on the land of one Douglas Oluch in Purungo Sub county, Nwoya district after paying him Shs750,000.
In another case, Neptune Oil abandoned waste in Aviv 1 - one of its dry wells after its licence expired in 2014. In the same year, Pearl Engineering Company, contracted by Total E&P Uganda BV, reportedly dumped oil waste on some one's land in Padit East, Purongo Sub County, Nwoya district without consent the consent of either the landowner or NEMA.
Again in 2014, Saracen, a security company guarding Tullow Oil's camp in Bulisa District, reportedly dumped domestic waste in Kisimo Cell, Bulisa Town Council, instead of transporting it to Hoima district where it was supposed to be disposed.
Bill Penser, the managing director Saracen later apologized, "It was unfortunate, we cleaned it up and apologized to the affected communities," he said then. It is such incidents of oil waste disposal that the Regulations are meant to address.