Petroleum waste disposal challenges in selected African countries - policy, practice and prospects
The oil industry is growing increasingly aware of its serious image problem. There is a growing awareness of the systematic abuses of people and the environment inherent in the production, processing and marketing of petroleum. (Rowell, 1997). From the Club of Rome to the Bruntland Report to Rio De Janeiro and Johannesburg Earth Summits, increased pressure on the oil industry has been witnessed. Pressure has mounted to, in particular, start managing the industry’s impact on the environment. It was the first pictures of earth from space, which revealed the view of the limited “spaceship earth”, after which Garrett Hardin’s seminal article, entitled ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ triggered an understanding of the close links between the environment and our economic activity in 1974, Daniel Yergin (1991) argues. Today the oil industry is facing ‘peak oil’ (the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction will be reached) and the looming fallout from environmental damage costs and disasters (Clyde,1996). It has been argued by Brain Clyde (1996) that the emergence of notions of ‘sustainable development’ and practice in the context of the oil industry, reifies global capitalism as the liberating and protecting force (Clyde, 1996). This thesis sets out to explore these notions of sustainable development and the ways in which they challenge (or not) the foundations of knowledge around environmentally ethical behaviour amongst large oil companies and the manner in which they manage, in particular, used oil. There is a growing body of research contained in the fields of Political Ecology and Industrial Ecology that points to the need for blame to be placed between multinational oil companies and national governments for failing in their mandate to protect the environment (Africa Institute, 2013 and Danida, 2012). This thesis argues that used oil management is not only the responsibility of oil companies but also that of national governments and suppliers in the general public. If the role of national governments is to create enabling conditions for the development of “fit for purpose” waste policy and regulations in order to lead or track “best practices” in used oil management, this thesis shows that more often than not, policy has either failed in practice or has not been developed owing to a lack of political will. The prospects for implementation of best practices typically speak to concepts of recycling, reuse and proper disposal in terms of Lansink’s Ladder (1979) concept (He was a Dutch member of parliament who presented a schematic presentation of the order of preference for waste management options, with disposal at the bottom and prevention at the top) of the “waste hierarchy” with which this study engages (Gertsakis and Lewis, 2003). The waste management hierarchy supports the approaches taken in studies in the field of Industrial Ecology which suggest practice-based solutions to waste oil and policy development. This thesis explores four contexts of waste management in Africa, focusing on comparisons between policy and practice in sites that I have worked at in Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia and relates these to South Africa. Waste management infrastructure to support used oil management is largely in poor shape or non-existent, whilst the gap between waste management policy and legislation and actual waste management practices appears to be widening. This is mainly due to ongoing capacity constraints or non-existence of waste management facilities for the different waste streams. As result of industrialization, urbanization and modernization of agriculture in Africa waste generation is expected to increase significantly. My interest in this research, and the major intention of this study came from my personal experience working as an environmental specialist in the petroleum industry, where I have witnessed poor waste oil practices as a result of inadequate infrastructural or waste disposal options. Exacerbating the problem, as I argue in the study, are poorly defined waste management policy/regulations with consequential severe environmental and health degradation.