As Tullow Oil resumes drilling operations after community protests in Northern Kenya, it is clear that the British explorer has experienced the sort of tension that had built up into a low intensity war affecting multimillion dollar worth of hydrocarbon infrastructure elsewhere on the continent.
Tullow was drilling ahead on the Agete-1 well, located seven kilometers north of the Twiga discovery in Block 13T, when the community intruded. The company suspended operations on both Blocks 13T and 10BB. The two acreages are located in the Turkana county, which has so far been the main hydrocarbon province onshore Kenya.
On November 7, 2013, 10 days after the disruptions, Tullow reported signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Kenyan Government, itself and the leadership of the Turkana region which the company said, laid out plans for the government, local officials and communities to work together and “ensure that operations can continue without disruption in the future”.
But the protest, led by a Kenyan Member of Parliament(MP), during which a security fence was broken and property was destroyed, has finger prints that should remind everyone that the resource nationalism campaign in Nigeria, which has morphed into criminal militant activity, including pipeline vandalism and piracy, started from basic disagreements between oil companies and communities, over jobs and quality of life of people who inhabit the areas beyond the perimeter fencing of oilfield activity.
The rivalry between James Lomenen, the MP who led a group of about 400 people to Twiga 1 drilling camp and Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok, who castigated some leaders for “threatening to chase away investors from the region” is stark mirror of how local politics and greedy competition for influence has turned the Niger Delta, the Nigerian oil rich belt, over to war lords. Even as they reach for one another’s jugulars, politicians find it convenient to point fingers at oil companies, to deflect attention from their own record of poor governance in these resource rich areas.
Tullow maintained that it took “its relationships with the local communities extremely seriously and the decision to suspend exploration and appraisal operations was taken to prevent further escalation of the demonstrations while discussions to resolve this issue for the long term” were ongoing. Under the terms of the memorandum, Tullow will open an office in Turkana “within one month to handle grievances”. That’s a significant move in the history of oil exploration in Africa, but this office should not be a mere outpost. Community engagement is important. “The challenge of employment opportunities is very well articulated in the MoU and issues of disclosure, so that we are all on the same page regarding opportunities that are available, be it in management, in the skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled areas,” says Davis Chirchir, Kenya’s Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary.
Again, here’s a politician coming across as if government is helping an oil company to sort out its problem with locals. How so very Nigerian!
Tullow’s postponement of work on Blocks 10BB and 13T for upwards of 15-20 days will set it back at least $2 Million, which will be largely about payment to rig contractor even while it is on down time.