Oil and gas exploitation: challenges of mitigating consequences on the environment explained to MPs

The awareness of Senegal’s Members of Parliament was raised about the need to lessen environmental and socioeconomic risks entailed by offshore oil and gas development, during a workshop organised by the Regional Partnership for Coastal and Marine Conservation in West Africa (PRCM). Senegal is confronted with a number of challenges following the discovery and exploitation of oil deposits. True, these gifts of nature open up an opportunity for wealth creation, but failure to hold in check their exploitation could result in drawbacks outshining benefits.

This is in substance what transpired from the intervention of the Director of the PRCM, Dr Ahmed Senhoury. “This workshop will prove useful in accompanying Members of Parliament in their efforts to ensure the development of the hydrocarbon sector, which is of significant interest to the economy but also carries negative consequences”, he observed during the workshop organised for the Network of Parliamentarians for environmental protection in Senegal (REPES). Members of Parliament have a key role to play in promoting good governance and creating a harmonised framework for state entities.

Such is the opinion of Dr Barthelemy from the PRCM. The concerns stemming from resource enhancement are most ecological and environmental in nature. Will oil companies care about preserving marine habitats and fisheries resources?

“Before the discovery of oil and gas deposits, thousands of Senegalese used to live on fishing. We must think about these communities and their livelihoods”, a concern voiced by a representative of fishermen, who, by the way, was not the only speaker to worry about the sustainability of ecosystems, the former Member of Parliament, Mr. Cheikh Oumar Sy, having also raised the issue of inadequate wells rehabilitation following the drilling phase.

Mr. Sy was of the view that the discovery of oil could lead to consequences on the shoreline, off deposits located in areas such as Kayar, Saint-Louis or Mbour… “There will be a psychological impact. People will throng at coastal areas, thereby creating land problems and pollution. We must ensure that wells are rehabilitated after the drilling” he said. Other speakers put the question to environmentalists as to whether underground resources should be ignored whereas the country has development requirements. “We must find a way of turning the oil curse into an opportunity. Why should we think we will necessarily be faced with the issues confronting other countries?” argued M. Ousmane Badiane, a member of the Union of local elected officials (UAEL).

Zero risk!

There is no such a thing as zero risk in an industrial activity. This is why oil companies must anticipate the potential negative effects of their activities and put in place mechanisms for mitigating such effects. “Environmental management plans have been developed to minimise the risks involved. As part of the new provisions, we are endeavouring to create an equalisation fund to deal with possible accidents” indicated the Chairman of the Parliamentary Group “Benno Bokk Yakaar”, Mr. Aymerou Gningue, who assured that technologies currently used in the industry are less damageable to the environment. He also made clarifications on the readjustment of the hydrocarbons regulations.

Senegal will now do away with concession contracts. “The situation is no longer the same as in the 60s. Today, we are talking about production sharing contracts. Once the company has recouped its investments, the State will own 70% of the business against 30% for the company”, specified Mr. Gningue.

By Idrissa SANE and Amadou DIOP Le Soleil