Isn’t it interesting that they say oil and water don’t just mix? You will be surprised to know of the role of water in oil drilling or extraction, but first let’s give this discussion a foundation.
Turkana is known to be among the dry regions in Kenya. It has had several periods of drought, including the fact that River Tukwell, Turkana’s only permanent river drying up. This came as a blow to residents as the river was their main source of water for both domestic, livestock as well as for irrigation activities.
As if not enough, Lake Turkana is at the risk of drying up according to UNESCO. The lake has been listed among the endangered world heritage sites, especially if Ethiopia is to go ahead with plans to construct more dams. Where does this leave Turkana?
In the oil industry, water flooding or water injection is the process where water is injected into an oil field, to increase pressure and thereby stimulate oil production. Water is injected to support pressure of the reservoir, to displace oil and push it towards a well.
This brings us back to our topic. Water has emerged to be a precious yet a rare commodity in this region. It is in the same proximity that oil extraction activities by Tullow are ongoing. Among the CSR activities by Tullow include water provision from the 30 boreholes that serve up to 20,000 people and 50,000 livestock.
Well, according to Anthony Mwangi, the GPA & Communications director at Tullow, Tullow needs to pump water in the wells in order to get oil out. This is done in the ratio of 1:1 i.e. water to oil. He says they are currently getting 60 to 80 thousand barrels of oil in a day, and it can be further projected to 100 thousand barrels when the oil production systems are fully functional in the various oil blocks.
If the ratio of water to oil extracted is 1: 1, it means up to 10million litres and more of water is being used per day in the oil-drilling process. Wait 10million litres of water? That literally means that the same amount can supply the daily water needs of the whole Turkana County to more than a half of its demand. Remember Turkana has been listed among dry regions in Kenya for decades. The big question is where does these much water in a dry spelled region coming from?
Over the years not even the national government was able to supply Turkana with such amounts of water, not to forget the additional 30 boreholes which also provide water to the residents. Is the ministry of water and irrigation involved by the ministry of petroleum and mining in their oil extraction processes? Because if the ratio is one to go by, it means two entire ministries should be involved.
Another question would be, is the water taxed by the national government? Is the water recycled or reused in any way? How much can 10million litres of water do in agriculture? Talk of irrigation, livestock and what not. Remember other costs are incurred in the upstream part of the process, not to talk of the mid and downstream parts.
New food for thought would be; after the water is already used for oil extraction, where is the water taken to? Because for a fact it cannot be used for drinking or for irrigation, as the water has been in contact with hydrocarbons underground, it is contaminated with some chemical characteristics. Among the contents in this include salt, which causes the water to be highly salty, thus the unfitness for human consumption or farming.
Water has been a scarce resource, and maybe the national government should seek to learn from Tullow, how to come up with so much water, (in case the government has not been part of it) in areas that are in record of being so dry. And (after the lessons) seek to know how the water is ‘disposed’ if it is not being recycled.