September 2019, Vol. 246, No. 9

Africa Spotlight

East Africa’s Leakage Incidents Points to Detection Needs

By Shem Oirere, Energy Writer, Nairobi, Kenya


The Tazama Pipeline

Barely one year after the commissioning of East and Central Africa’s only refined oil transportation pipeline in Kenya, leakages have been reported, raising concerns about the ability of existing government agencies to monitor the safety of oil infrastructure at a time when similar projects have been unveiled across the region.

The 280-mile (450-km), 20-inch pipeline, constructed by Lebanese contractor Zakhem International, runs from Kenya’s Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa to the country’s capital Nairobi, and was belatedly commissioned last year after more than five interruptions pushed back its completion by nearly two years.

In April, an oil leak was reported at Kibwezi, nearly 125 miles (200 km) southeast of Nairobi, with Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) – the largest pipeline operator in East Africa – confirming the accidental spill but giving no reasons for the incident.

“The Kenya Pipeline Company board regrets the oil spillage. The leak that led to the spillage was neither expected nor anticipated, given that this is a newly commissioned line that has been in operation for nearly one year,” said John Ngumi, the chairman of the KPC Board of Directors.

The leak led to KPC digging 42 shallow trenches at the location of the spill, according to the company’s Managing Director Hudson Andambi. Three filled up with the spilled oil, while 32 ended up containing water that had traces of oil, and six showed no traces of oil, the company said.

The spill affected Kiboko water springs, a major water source in Makueni County, one of the 47 counties in Kenya, and came only weeks after a similar leak was reported adjacent to Thange River, also in the same county.

“The pollution affected an approximate [1.1-mile] 18-km area downstream, and Kiboko and Thange issue (pollution) should be dealt with,” said Kivutha Kibwana, governor of Makueni County.

Although KPC deployed tankers and dredgers to avert spread of the spilled oil to water catchment areas, the company has yet to say if the leakage had to do with undetected failures arising from insufficient or delayed monitoring of the new pipeline that moves a million liters/hour (150,960 bpd) up from the 730,000 liters/hour (110,208 bpd) in 1978.

The 20-inch oil products pipeline is built parallel to the ageing 1978-built, 14-inch line, also built by Zakhem International, and is intended to mitigate product loss and leaks from pipeline systems.

But KPC interim-Managing Director Hudson Andambi told the Nairobi-based Daily Nation newspaper in early May, “Leak detection was not included in the design stage, which is very unfortunate given that it was our second time constructing a pipeline.”

Kenya’s Water Resources Authority expressed concern about the possible spread of contamination from the oil leak when it wrote to KPC directing the company to “clean up the oil spill area and remove the soil containing the oil product to safer grounds as chances are that they may contaminate the nearby water sources and the indigenous vegetation.”

KPC has not publicized data in oil leak incidents, nor is there an overall pipeline industry oversight body like for other modes of transport making it difficult to obtain a complete accurate picture of oil pipeline safety in the country.

In one of its 2017 company reports, KPC talks of “several incidents of leakage,” which it attributed to the aging, 40-year-old line that is part of the 556-mile (896-km) Mombasa-Nairobi-Eldoret-Kisumu that supplies not only Kenya but also the neighboring countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“Incidents of product leaks were reported along Line One (the 1978-built) due to the aging pipeline,” said the company in its 2017 annual report. “This was a source of uncertainty with regard to the possible environmental damage and health concerns to residents as a result of hydrocarbon release from the pipeline system,” added the report.

Nearly eight years ago, one of KPC’s oil pipeline had a spill, which sparked a fire that killed 120 people and left scores of others injured.

The leaking pipeline, which later exploded, goes through the densely populated Mukuru-Sinai slum in Nairobi. Victims who accused KPC of negligence by laying an oil pipeline in a residential area without an adequate failure prevention and mitigation plan in place, sued the company for $300 million, although the court declined to award them.

Unlike other jurisdictions where private sectors are allowed to own oil pipelines, in East Africa the infrastructure is considered a strategic state asset and therefore operated by government agencies.

There is no external body to supervise and ensure the integrity management plans by the government agencies are complied with and confirm if risk assessments outlined by the oil pipeline company such as KPC are ever carried.

In addition, the existing regulatory framework across East Africa does not provide for external evaluation of oil pipeline monitoring standards neither are there specified penalties for failure to comply with safety procedures.

The latest leak of the new oil pipeline in Kenya comes as more projects have been unveiled in East Africa as the region savors its newly found oil discovery boom.

Tanzania and Uganda are proceeding with the crude oil pipeline meant to move Uganda’s crude from Hoima oil fields to the international market. Landlocked Uganda has proven crude oil reserves of 6.5 billion barrels, with the government saying at least 2.2 billion barrels are recoverable. The pipeline will run from Mbarara (Uganda) to Mwanza, Isaka and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).

Earlier, Kenya had completed a 76-mile (122-km) line linking Sinendet to the Lake Victoria port town of Kisumu as part of the plan to boost the Eldoret oil depot and support the planned expansion of the petroleum products’ oil pipeline network to other East Africa countries that rely on the port of Mombasa for their petroleum imports.

With more oil pipelines expected to come online in East Africa in the medium term, demand for enforcement measures to ensure their safety has never been higher. P&GJ

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