Kenya crude oil plan shaken by unsafe bridge

By Njiraini Muchira

There may be a long wait before Kenya starts exporting crude oil as a critical bridge on the Lokichar-Kitale road poses a serious safety risk.

Besides, the failure by the national and county governments to resolve a standoff over revenue sharing has raised security fears, after a bandit attack two weeks ago in Kapedo in Turkana, which was attributed to the local community’s opposition to the Early Oil Production Scheme (EOPS).

The Ministry of Energy insists that the EOPS — already behind schedule — will kick off “anytime,” but there are doubts because the companies contracted to transport the crude have raised security concerns regarding the safety of the Kainuk bridge.

The EastAfrican has established that official inspection of the bridge has determined that it cannot withstand the weight of the tanktainers that will transport the crude.

Drift crossing

Subsequently, the parties involved in the scheme are exploring the alternative of drift crossing the Turkwel River. Drift crossing involves stabilising the river bed with concrete.

Though drift crossing can work during the dry season, when the water levels are low, it is risky during rainy seasons.

“The bridge is extremely dangerous but there is an alternative in drift crossing,” said a source familiar with the preparations.

Although the government is yet to make a decision on the way forward, with Energy Principal Secretary Andrew Kamau maintaining the haulage of crude is on course, the situation on the ground appears to show that transporting crude oil across the bridge is technically unfeasible and could court disaster.

“We are on course with the EOPS and expect to start transportation any time soon,” said Mr Kamau on telephone from the United States.

When contacted, Tullow Oil said that only the Ministry of Energy can provide a definite timeline as to when transportation of the crude will begin and that the state of the road and the bridge is the mandate of Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA).

“As far as we are concerned the Ministry of Energy is best placed to advise on when the scheme will kick-off while KeNHA should advise on the road,” said Tim Tororey, Tullow Oil communications manager.

Replacing the bridge

When President Uhuru Kenyatta received the progress report on the EOPS last year, Tullow Oil and its joint venture partners were categorical that the Kainuk Bridge had to be replaced to allow for larger and heavier trucks transporting the crude.

A report by lobby group Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas also contends that replacement of the bridge is a prerequisite for the success of the scheme in which Kenya want to use to build a profile for its crude before embarking on large scale production in 2022.

“Major road upgrades will be required including rehabilitation of the road between Eldoret and Kitale and onwards to Lokichar and the replacement of Kainuk bridge,” states the group in a report questioning the rationale of the EOPS.

The bridge, which straddles Turkwel River and connects Turkana and West Pokot Counties, is a critical project in rehabilitation of the 300km Eldoret–Kitale–Lokichar-Amosing road.

The bridge is on the critical Loichangamatak–Lodwar–Nadapal/Nakodok road which is an important connectivity link between Kenya and South Sudan and has come under repeated stress mainly from heavy trucks transporting relief food into Turkana and South Sudan.

Disaster in waiting

In reality, implementing the EOPS with the bridge in its current state poses a serious safety threat. This has been confirmed by KeNHA, which told The EastAfrican that the bridge “has remained a major deterrent to efficient transportation within the region, and especially during the rainy season.”

Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok has also complained over the state of the bridge, terming it a disaster in waiting.

KeNHA is set to start upgrading the Loichangamatak–Lodwar–Nadapal/Nakodok road and construction of the Kainuk bridge after signing various contractual obligations with international contractors concerning different sections of the project with a total cost of $311 million.

China Henan International Corporation has been awarded the construction/replacement contract for the Kainuk bridge which is expected to cost $14.2 million.

“Contractors for each lot of the contract are currently mobilising equipment and setting up their camps and are set to commence the actual works in July,” said KeNHA corporate affairs manager Charles Njogu.

The project is jointly funded by the Kenyan government and the World Bank under the Eastern Africa Regional Transport, Trade and Development Facilitation Project and is, among other things, expected to provide efficient uptake and transportation of crude oil.

But with the implementation of the project expected to take three years to complete, parties involved in the early oil scheme are torn as to whether to risk proceeding despite the risks.

Oilfield Movers, Multiple Hauliers and Primefuels Kenya have been contracted to carry the crude from Lokichar to the Kenya Petroleum Refinery storage tanks in Mombasa.

 

Source: The East African

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