Opinion & Analysis

Allow Kajiado residents to exploit gas find

A fireman puts out fire that was ignited by gas coming out of a dry borehole in Inkorkirdinga Village, Kajiado West on October 6, 2017. Photo | Joseph Ngunjiri | NMG
A fireman puts out fire that was ignited by gas coming out of a dry borehole in Inkorkirdinga Village, Kajiado West on October 6, 2017. Photo | Joseph Ngunjiri | NMG 

The inadvertent gas find in Kajiado County has in my view exposed our unfamiliarity with investment adventure.

My immediate thoughts were that the person who discovered the gas should just be given the finder’s fee (in common parlance, the exploration licence), allow him to raise capital through a private placement and hire contractors to build a gas plant.

These were just wishes and perhaps too optimistic thoughts.

Someone had already decided that Africans don’t take risk and chased everybody away from the centre of action for fear they may die from “toxic fumes.”

It didn’t matter that virtually everybody there could smell methane. Gas samples were taken for testing and will take two weeks to confirm, Tullow will be asked to establish commercial viability and the Ministry of Energy will establish who had the right to explore the area.

This dancing around the issues for something that is straightforward is in my view why we shall remain poor for a good foreseeable future.

I would imagine that if such a thing happened in Norway, they would not seek for assistance out of the country when their universities have hundreds of geologists and chemical engineers.

Colonial mentality

Why is it that in Africa we don’t seem to shed off the colonial mentality? We should learn to take risk and live with the consequences of either failure or success. Why can’t this find be exploited in six months or at most three years using local resources?

The steps that we are taking threaten to push us into emulating events of the Californian Gold Rush of 1849.

News of the gold find in Coloma, California brought more than 300,000 people from other states in America as well as from other parts of the world in what become known as the “gold rush.”

The sudden influx of people had a devastating impact on the natives, many of whom who died of disease, starvation or conflicts with the invaders.

In the 21st century, we could approach this matter in a more dignified way. This is an opportunity for Kenya to structure an investment vehicle and allow its citizens to take the risk.

If that succeeds, it will be the greatest confidence builder ever and perhaps lead to many more risky projects being undertaken.

There will be lots of lessons especially knowing what it cost to venture into such enterprises.

Foreign expertise

At the moment we are solely reliant on foreign consultants whose figures from their activities cannot be validated in any way.

The Kenya Petroleum Exploration and Production Act (PEPA) regulate oil and gas exploration and exploitation. Its activities, as in many other countries with mineral resources, should be in the open data.

There is need to regularly publish the names of those with exploration licences and what they are doing with them. At the moment, we have no clue as to what is happening, who is doing what and how ordinary citizens should also benefit from their wealth in the ground.

It is noteworthy, however, that the law is being reviewed at the moment to include such amendments as a public auction system for exploration rights, if there is any out there.

Currently, exploration rights are given on first come first serve basis. But that is not enough.

There are no provisions for accidental find of oil or gas. Perhaps this should be one of the amendments since we may be encountering many more accidental oil or gas finds. At the moment, with or without the exploration right, the rules of natural justice should apply and consider those who actually found the gas.

We must avoid any form of delaying tactics to exploit the newly found gas deposits and structure an investment vehicle in the most prudent way for people to make investments.

Cheap gas is key to our energy requirements, the restoration of our forests and greater employment creation.

I see no reason why we should not allow the locals to take the lead and be in control of their destiny. We must not look to foreign consultants even in situations of certainty.