East African court fines oil companies in South Sudan

East African court fines oil companies in South Sudan

The East African Court of Justice has fined oil companies operating in Upper Nile and the Unity States $1 million for the environmental damage it caused in 2018.

The Deputy Minister of Cabinet Affairs Garang Thong Aken revealed this after a meeting of the governance cluster which was chaired by First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar on Tuesday.

A 2014 report by the Dutch NGO Cordaid revealed that there are strong indications that toxic wastewater, drilling muds, oils spills, and chemicals have seriously polluted the environment in the two states. 

The communities living near oil fields have raised concerns over health problems such as infertility, miscarriages, and eye and skin problems. According to medical staff—whose name is concealed for security purposes—“communities are not made fully aware of hazards associated with the production of oil” in some of these oil-rich areas.

In 2019, a pipeline of the Chinese Greater Pioneer Operating Company (GPOC) that operates the oil field in Unity State broke and spilled crude oil over a wide bandage of Unity State.

The oil leaked at Kailoy, about 10 kilometers west of the Unity oil field that caught fire and burned for two days. It produced thick plumes of smoke into the air. The Chinese Greater Pioneer Operating Company (GPOC) owns and operates the field.

However, Garang urged the oil companies to protect the environment in the oil fields to avoid further damages as they continue with the production of oil to ensure the safety of people and livestock leaving near to the field. 

“The East African court has already fined the oil companies in South Sudan to pay the amount of $1 million for environmental spoil.”

The oil companies have been accused of poor waste management from the oil production in their areas of operation, including wastewater and drilling chemicals disposed of in unprotected areas and others drained into drinking water bodies.

In a report filed by the German NGO, Sign of Hope in 2016, an estimated 180,000 people face life-threatening risks from oil-related water pollution. Heavy metals, from leaking pipelines and refineries and damage from fighting, have leaked into the groundwater.

Various initiatives have been undertaken to address environmental concerns, including restoration of affected areas in the oil-rich Upper Nile and Unity States. These included Transitional Agreements signed by oil companies and the government of South Sudan and the Petroleum Act from July 2012.

The 2012 Petroleum Act requires companies to set up funds to repair environmental damage and pay reparations to affected communities, and little evidence of such activity to date, according to the Sudd Institute and PAX.