By Amin Kef Sesay
As Sierra Leone prepares for crude oil exploration, the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) has organized a policy dialogue forum for key stakeholders to examine and discuss the Petroleum Policy for Sierra Leone, with a specific focus on Health, Safety, Environment, and Social Impact. The event is geared towards helping the current Government to strengthen the relevant structures to ensure environmental safety even before the commencement of full-scale oil exploration and production in the country. The all-important event was held at the Hill Valley Hotel Conference Hall on Friday 29th November 2019 and it brought together key stakeholders from government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, Civil Society, the Media, and Policy Makers to discuss the importance of having a sound environmental protection policy in the oil and gas sector.
It is reported that a good number of countries and companies have already shown interest in investing in the oil and gas sector, but what has come out clearly is the fact that crude oil exploration is going to be offshore but the extraction activities cannot, however, go without grave environmental consequences. It is against this backdrop that the CSSL, with support from the MAVA Foundation through the Regional Programme for Conservation of the Coastal and Marine Zone, is poised to undertake sensitization activities to raise awareness about these issues, and also engage policymakers and other key stakeholders.
President of CSSL, Charles Showers said oil and gas are important and viable resources for the development of a nation and added that extracting these products sometimes have adverse effects on the environment. “We should be proactive enough to have an applicable policy in place to forestall the mistakes done in other countries,” he said.
CSSL’s Executive Director, Dr. Sheku Kamara remarked that his organization has great care for the environment including wildlife and their habitat. “We want to preserve our environment for the benefit of the nation,” he said and added that in anticipation of expanding the oil industry, frank actions must be taken to protect the environment. He furthered that they are looking at possibilities of having a sound environmental policy in the oil and gas industry by ensuring that the right laws are in place.
Edward Momodu Sesay is the Programme Manager of CSSL. He named the environment, human development, and biodiversity as things that should have a realistic balance for mutual benefit and survival.
The petroleum sector, he further said, has risks that can have serious negative impacts on the health and safety of the country’s citizens and Communities’ environmental sustainability if not properly dealt with and on a long term. “The policy lays out key principles that should ensure effective management of these risks,” he said and furthered that the policy shall contribute to and promote a balance to ensure sustainable development. “Petroleum operations have the potential to cause irreparable damage to the environment and compromise the socio-economic conditions, health and safety of the people, thus affecting the sustainable development of the country,” says the Programme Manager and suggested that the Government should ensure that health, safety, security, and environmental issues are integrated into the planning and development of the petroleum sector.
One of the key principles, he highlighted, as contained in the policy is that “Environmental and Social Impact Amusement and Environmental Management Plan shall be submitted by petroleum companies, which shall be evaluated by the Sierra Leone Environment Protection Agency and any other competent authority, as required by the SLEPA Act (2008) prior to initiation of activities. Such assessment shall be comprehensive and cover areas specified in the Act, including an oil spill contingency plan and an Emergency Preparedness Response Plan (EPRP). Anticipated or real negative impacts shall be mitigated and positive impacts promoted.”
Another key principle Mr. Sesay made mention of states that “At the end of petroleum activity, the environment shall to the extent possible be brought back to its original state. Companies shall provide financial assurances to ensure that the environment will be rehabilitated at the end of the activity.”
Representatives from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), National Minerals Agency (NMA), Petroleum Regulatory Agency, Sierra Leone Maritime Administration, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, and other key stakeholders made meaningful input in having sound policies in place for an effective environmental protection in the oil and gas industry. They noted that environmental management cannot succeed without good policies in place.