Oil spill preparedness and response

(Photocredit: News 12 Viewer, Julia Martin)

As Kenya embarks on its dream of joining the oil producing league of countries, one of the things I believe it should put into consideration is oil spill preparedness and response. I believe in as much as we await the economic benefits that come with oil production, we should equally be prepared to deal with oil spills or have measures to mitigate their impact.


Amongst the general public there is admittedly little knowledge concerning oil spills let alone oil spill preparedness and response. Usually when speaking about oil spills, what quickly comes to mind would be marine oil spills. However, there are also land spills that can occur. These may occur due to, pipeline leakage, tanker accidents, etc.

What is an oil spill?
Oil spill is defined as the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially marine areas, due to human activity. It is considered as a form of pollution. Typically applied to marine oil spills (release of hydrocarbons into ocean or coastal waters), oil spills can also occur on land.

Oil Spills may arise from various sources including;
1. Exploration and drilling operations
2. Oil loading, unloading
3. Pipeline operation,
4. Collision or grounding of vessels carrying crude oil and product in local ports or coastal waters.
5. Accidents in terminals and depots including Tankers or barges operating on inland waterways
6. Tankers operating in international waters.
7. Deliberate or accidental discharge from offshore platforms
8. Accidents in oil refineries,

Other sources of oil spills include urban runoff and natural seepage which are termed as non-operational sources.

Why should we give oil spill preparedness attention?
1. As we consider transporting crude oil via road while we await our pipeline to be constructed we ought to consider the risks associated with road transportation of crude oil. These include road accidents. The reason that pipelines are usually the best option is that they provide the safest mode of transport for crude oil and natural gas.

2. Oil spills can also occur via oil tanker accidents, ship leakage, or during the drilling process offshore. Given that this is a method we are considering to use when exporting our crude oil to other countries for refining, it is important to understand the maritime law regarding oil spills.

It is a general requirement for most oil companies/operators to have an oil spill contingency plan. However, in order to also meet international standards, the country requires to have a national contingency plan. This plan would best succeed by training/equipping personnel and national executives from the relevant departments as well as the local communities with the knowledge on controlling, containing and cleaning up oil spills.

Also planning for an oil spill emergency would assist to reduce potential danger to human health and the environment by ensuring a timely and coordinated response.

What can we do about it?

  1. First of all we can start by obtaining the basic information on international standards [(International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation 1990 (OPRC 90) and MARPOL 1973/78)] for oil spill preparedness and response and taking the necessary steps to create our own oil spill response plans.
  2. Secondly by capacity building in oil spill preparedness and response. This is the best time as we gear up for production. Planning to prepare for unforeseen disasters would be a good thing so that as and when a disaster such as an oil spill occurs we may be ready for it. By capacity building, through trainings to improve our basic knowledge on oil spills as well as equipping ourselves with modern equipment, we shall enhance our ability to respond to oil spills.
  3. Finally, creating awareness on the dangers and impacts of an oil spill amongst the locals would be beneficial not only to the local community but would also help create a safe environment as well as help mitigate oil spill hazards.

Given that tourism is an important aspect of the Kenyan economy, oil spill preparedness and response would be a key consideration not only as a way to safeguard the environment but also to maintain its other source of income.

Collaboration between the relevant legislation such as petroleum act, environmental act with the help of bodies such as the Kenya Maritime Association, NEMA (National Environmental Management Agency), Ministry for Energy and Petroleum, and other private stakeholders would help guide in the creation and/or updating of a national contingency plan for oil spill preparedness and response which is not only centred on marine spillage but also overland oil spills.

By involving the local communities and other relevant stakeholders in developing and exercising the national contingency plan, this would enable develop an interpersonal relationship which would in turn help in the smooth operation of an oil spill response when it occurs. The contingency plan would require to be updated regularly to match the constantly evolving methods for oil spill response, thus ensuring increased protection for human health and the environment from oil spill accidents.

Further reading

  1. http://ioscproceedings.org/doi/pdf/10.7901/2169-3358-1991-1-105
  2. http://www.kma.go.ke/index.php/marine-enviros
  3. http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2000012361/kenya-ups-marine-oil-spill-preparedness
  4. https://www.dm.gov.ae/wps/wcm/connect/120edb4e-33a8-4d0e-94d9-7f1709553a71/Oil+Spill+Response+and+Preparedness-eng.pdf?MOD=AJPERE
  5. http://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/sustainability/environment/oil-spill-preparedness-and-response.html
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