Nairobi (Reuters) – Kenya’s government would like Africa-focused explorer Tullow Oil to resume drilling at two blocks next week and will hold talks with protesters whose actions halted work at the sites, a minister said on Wednesday.
Oil discoveries in Uganda and gas finds offshore Tanzania and Mozambique have drawn explorers to east Africa, now seen as a potentially major new producing region. Supported by local politicians, residents from the remote, poverty-stricken northern Turkana community marched on Tullow sites on Saturday demanding more jobs and other benefits, prompting the explorer to suspend work there.
Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir said that he had already met with the management of Tullow and would meet with the leaders from the Turkana region on Thursday and Friday to discuss the issues that led to the protests. “So we will be talking through those issues, we would like as early as Monday, Tuesday for operations to be resumed,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a regional east African oil and gas conference.
Tullow has said that about 860 out of the 1,400 workers on their sites were from Turkana region. Tullow and its partner Africa Oil said they suspended drilling operations on Block 10BB and Block 13T over security concerns for their workers. Tullow is the operator at both the blocks. “We want to show the leadership (of the protesters) the numbers, and to the extent that there could be a challenge where locals should have been employed and employment has happened from outside, we would like to talk to that,” he said.
Tullow officials were not immediately available to comment on the date when work could resume. Chirchir said he would try to convince the local residents to accept that some jobs could be held by people from other parts of the country who had the required skills. In July, London-listed Tullow, which is already producing oil in Ghana and awaiting government approval to do so in Uganda, estimated resource volumes in the Lokichar basin, where the protests took place, at 300 million barrels of crude oil.