A week into a month since the spillage from a Temperature Gradient Hole (TGH) took place at Kibiro Village in Kigorobya Sub-county, Hoima District, residents still live in fear for their lives.
On November 1, 2019, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development contracted M/S Royal Techno Industries Ltd to drill 16 temperature gradient wells at Kibiro hot springs in Kigorobya sub-county, Hoima district; Buranga hot springs in Bundibugyo district and Amoropii hot springs in Panyimur sub-county, Pakwach district.
The exploration was to find whether there are geothermal reserviours in the areas.
However, on the night of March 29, 2020, during the drilling of the eighth and last well in Kibiro, a blow-out occurred resulting in an uncontrolled discharge.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Mr Robert Kasande, said what oozed out of the well were geothermal fluids, gas, drilling fluids and sediments.
The let-off spillage that followed the explosion of the TGHs meant to exploit geothermal energy affected more than 100 households in Kibiro.
The waxy mixture containing natural gas, clay, water, drilling mud, sand and limited traces of oil that smelt like gasoline filled a pit latrine belonging to Mr Julius Rubanjwa approximately 60 metres downstream from the well.
Mud, clay and sand residue also covered an access road along the Lake Albert shoreline to the neighbouring Kyabarangwa landing site while the water reeds along the shore of the lake had a black deposit resembling crude oil at the water level mark.
This caused panic among the residents prompting the government to suspend the drilling process.
Despite the suspension, the community living adjacent to the sites still fear that the explosion that resulted in seepage will affect their health, livelihood and the famous hot springs.
Mr Godfrey Abigaba, the Kibiro village chairperson, fears that the oily matter that spilled into the lake could be hazardous to fish – their source of income.
“Men in Kibiro depend on fishing. We fear that with the oily matter into the lake, fish could die and we suffer financially.”
Mr Vincent Bagonza, another resident, fears that the spillage could be harmful to human life and the biodiversity in the area. He, thus, calls upon government to cancel the company’s contract.
“The company’s contract should be terminated because it carried out the project without the consent of the residents,” he argues.
Mr Yusuf Bitagase, also a resident, wonders why the government and the contractor did not sensitise the residents about the project.
“Some of us learnt about the activity after the explosion. Government and the contractor should have either informed or sensitised us about the activity in the area,” he says.
In normal procedures, to avoid social project refusal, before government engages in such developments, it has to sensitise residents about the better side of the project through social workers for a “social licence.”
Social licence is where residents accept and welcome a project in their area after being sensitised about its impact and benefits.
Mr Augustus Bikobo, another resident, wants government to make public the investigation report about the seepage, its composition and effects.
“Government should come out publicly and tell us the investigation report that shows how the spillage took place, its contents and effects on the water of Lake Albert, soil and the residents.”
Mr John Byamukama, wants government to compensate residents whose properties were destroyed by the spill.
In January this year, Bunyoro – Kitara Kingdom opposed government’s proposal to establish a geothermal electric power project at Kibiro hot springs. The hot springs, located 35-kilometres north of Hoima town, form a water stream that meanders westerly emptying into Lake Albert.
Kingdom officials said the project was likely to destroy the site’s ecosystem and frustrate plans to elevate the hot springs to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Heritage Site.
The water at the hot springs is always boiling at 100°C as evidenced in the bubbles. It is always used by locals to boil eggs, sweet potatoes, cassava, Irish potatoes and green bananas.
The water has also been found to contain varying amounts of minerals and chemicals with medicinal value including sodium chloride, potassium chloride, Lithium Sulphate, calcium sulphate, calcium phosphate and magnesium chloride.