Uganda has suspended geothermal drilling activities in the Albertine Graben following a spillage thought to contain components of crude oil.
The Ministry of Energy and Minerals says it has taken the decision to halt drilling activities until a comprehensive Environmental and Social Impact Assessment is conducted in accordance with the new National Environment Act No.5 of 2019 to which the Ministry commits to resolve any conflict borne out of this incident.
Last year, Uganda awarded a Shs2.3b contract to a local firm Royal Techno Industries Ltd to drill eight temperature gradient holes to exploit geothermal energy at the famous hotsprings.
Geothermal locations are at Kibiro in Hoima district, Panyimur in Pakwach district and Buranga in Bundibugyo district. The spillage occurred in Kibiro.
Permanent secretary, Robert Kasande said whereas the discharge was “almost similar to what happens during an oil spill incident, it may be erroneous to dub the incident an oil spill.”
“Unfortunately, as a project challenge, during the drilling of the eighth and last well on the night of March 29th,2020 a blow-out happened which resulted in an uncontrolled discharge of gas, drilling fluids, geothermal fluids and sediments,” he said.
“A limited oil sheen was observed on sediments. The discharge caused public concern and misinformation as well.”
Kasande said they were unable to quantify the materials discharged into the environment at Kibiro, given the length of time during, which the incident occurred – for about nine hours.
He acknowledges, however, that significant quantities of materials – natural gas, clay, water, drilling mud and limited traces of oil) were released into the environment.
The ministry says the incident isn’t serious because even the ecology was not affected as evidenced by aquatic species that were surviving normally at the shoreline.
Kasande said the ministry will continue to inform, consult, involve, collaborate with and/or empowering the community and stakeholders regarding decisions about matters that may affect them, such as new policies and plans.