Kenya: Fears for Elephants As Park Is Swallowed in Oil Block


By Stanley Magut, The Star

Date Published
An aerial view of Etuko-1 well in Turkana County where Tullow Oil is conducting its operations
Experts have now raised fears oil exploration in northern Kenya may displace elephants and destroy breeding places for other wildlife.Of concern is the Rimoi National Reserve in Kerio Valley, Elgeyo Marakwet County, which hosts large population of elephants.
The reserve also hosts the dikdik, monkeys, impala, warthog, bush pig, Pangolin and birds.
The little-known park has been swallowed by the Tullow Oil Kenya’s exploration Block12A, which also stretches to Baringo, Samburu, Turkana and West Pokot counties.
Tullow Oil Kenya environment manager Alex Mutiso said Environmental and Social Impact Assessment is ongoing ahead of the oil exploration inside the block.
He says Tullow, Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and Elgeyo Marakwet County government have identified the elephants migratory routes and breeding grounds.
“We are not interested in displacing elephants and that is why we have done our assessment on the impact the activity will have. We have established the migratory routes and breeding grounds with KWS hence we will not interfere with the animals,” Mutiso said.
He said well pads will not be sunk in the wildlife routes and breeding sites.
“Tullow Oil are conservationists and that is why we are doing environmental impact assessment since we value our environment,” Mutiso added.
Elgeyo Marakwet County chief warden Dominic Kilonzo said for they worked with the oil company for the past nine months during the seismic survey.
They identified and marked the elephants migratory routes and their breeding grounds.
“We have been in consultation with them since the onset of the activity and no destruction witnessed so far. This tells you that all the factors have been put in place to ensure that the animals are not displaced,” Kilonzo said.
“We have agreed with them and they know specific sites for their well pad.”
However, locals are not convinced. Secretary of Kerio Valley Peoples’ Association Justin Kurui says it is clear the project will displace the animals.
He says the massive operations and movement of machines in the area will destabilise the elephants’ natural habitat.
“It is a blatant lie to say that the operations will not interfere with the elephants considering the huge operations that will be taking place here. They need to come out clearly and shade light on it,” Kurui said.
He said Tullow has not fully sensitised the community on how they will address environmental effects caused by the drilling.”There are so many detrimental effects to the environment and health caused by oil and gas drilling. These are the issues we want to know how the company will be addressing,” Kurui said.
Oil and gas drilling has many environmental effects. These include disturbance of the surface and habitat fragmentation.
Developments of well pads, pipelines, access roads and ancillary facilities also lead to vegetation clearance and disturbance of topsoil.
When vegetation is cleared, it may lead to loss of wildlife habitat, soil erosion and loss of plant diversity.
However, Mutiso told the Star “all operations” will be in tandem with the laws governing conservation of the environment.
He said all the company’s projects take responsible approach to key issues such as effluent discharge, waste management and conservation of trees.
“Non-harzadous and hazardous wastes will be dealt with according to the legal requirements. We will be having our plant for sewage treatment before being discharged to the environment,” he said.
Tullow said apart from the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), which is a legal requirement, the oil company will also conduct a Site Specific Assessment (SSA).
The SSA will identify effects on the biodiversity, archeology, culture, and forecast the compensation among others.
“We have assessed the specific site and determined the type of trees there and whether there is any need to cut them down during the process,” Mutiso said.
“We will look and see if the kind of trees are indigenous and if it is the only species found in the area then we have no business to cut them down.”He said the company is already replacing the trees cut down in its areas of operations by planting 20 for each that has been felled.
“Remember we are looking into the future, what will happen if we cut all the trees without replacing them. That is why we have our system of planting 20 trees for everyone cut down,” Mutiso said.
KWS said the locals’ concerns are valid and that the 66-square kilometre Rimoi will be fenced with an electric fence to keep out human activities.
The park has about 200 elephants, according to KWS, and is probably one of the least frequented in Kenya partly because of its remote location.
It is managed by the Elgeyo Marakwet county but the KWS provides security.
“Electric fencing is meant to better the reserve and give elephants an ample time to breed as well as keeping off human activities that may interfere with the animals,” Kilonzo said.
He said the public have realised the importance of the elephants and were willing to partner with KWS in conserving them.”This is the pride of this region in terms of tourist attraction and economic growth hence they are willing to conserve them,” he said.
In July this year,Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos said the reserve will be revamped to enhance tourism in the region.
He said the county had earmarked Sh34 million for the project and they will work with the KWS to improve it.
“We want to ensure that poaching is unheard off here through fencing the area. We will also introduce other wild animals apart from Elephants since it will boost our tourism sector,” Tolgos said.