In about nine months from now Kenya will be an oil producer. Tullow Oil and its partners Africa Oil and Maersk believe that they can produce and transport (by truck) about 2 000 barrels of oil per day(bopd) from the Lokichar basin in Turkana county to Mombasa.
Kenya, Turkana County, civil society, the Turkana community and Tullow have had almost five years to prepare for this so called first oil. Five years to develop the policies, procedures, institutions and practices to ensure successful natural resource management. Five years to avoid conflict, corruption and inequality, and five years to offer a model based on financial integrity, environmental sustainability, shared prosperity and respect for human rights.
New energy and petroleum legislation is emerging in Kenya. This offers a great opportunity for Kenya to incorporate into its legal framework international standards of transparency, anti-corruption, due diligence and respect for human rights. Where legal and governance gaps exist in Kenya, responsible companies should be adhering to international standards.
Tullow, Africa Oil, Maersk, the government and the county government with full participation of civil society and the community form an important relationship in creating jobs and generating wealth as well as protecting the environment, respecting individual and community rights and creating a sustainable model of development.
In the past five years exploration was mismanaged, companies were partly responsible. Companies failed to acknowledge, or chose to ignore, the many ways in which their own actions contributed to conflict, anger and discontent. Operating irresponsibly in situations of poverty, violence, social tension and instability worsened the situation. In many cases, companies lowered their standards in accordance with the political environment rather than looking at introducing higher standards on that environment.
The direction taken by Tullow, Africa Oil and Maersk in the next nine months will be an important determinant of the overall impact of oil and gas production in the Turkana and Kenya.
“If they do adhere to good practice and if they do acknowledge and address the wider impacts of their operations, they will do much to avoid many of the problems encountered previously and also help to shape positively the behaviour of others.”
With only nine months to go, one can only hope that the Kenyan government, the county of Turkana, Tullow, Africa Oil and Maersk have their house in order.
Handled well, oil has a great potential, assisting economic growth and prosperity and supporting the social contract which binds societies together. Handled badly, it entrenches divisions between different groups, widens the gap between government and people and drives inequality.
Dennis Morton is a photojournalist and founder of Let Us Talk, a not-for-profit organization assisting indigenous people. He spent sixteen years in South Africa working as a journalist and training and development specialist in the NGO and corporate sectors. He joined the extractive industry in 2000. Dennis managed field operations in the extractive industry for ten years in remote areas such as Rajasthan India, Syria, Guinea and Kenya. During this period he worked extensively with communities in the areas of stakeholder engagement and social responsibility. Dennis is now a campaigner for the rights of indigenous and project affected persons impacted by projects associated with the extractive industry.