Environmental Impact of Extractive Industries in Egypt

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Since 1936, Egypt has been party to regional and international conventions, treaties and agreements addressing environmental protection, the conservation of nature in general and biodiversity in particular.[1] The responsibility of Egypt's Minister of State for Environmental Affairs was assigned in June 1997, and from thereon, the new ministry has focused, in collaboration with the national and international development partners, on defining environmental policies, setting priorities and implementing initiatives within a context of sustainable development. [2]

Competent Authorities & Legislation

Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency

At the central level, EEAA represents the executive arm of the Ministry of Environmental Affairs. Principle functions of the agency include formulating environmental policies, preparing the necessary plans for environmental protection, implementing environmental law and inspecting compliance. The agency is also the national authority in charge of promoting environmental relations between Egypt and other states, as well as regional and international organizations.[3] Moreover, the EEAA sets criteria and procedures for mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of extractive projects, approves and monitors their programmes, and inspects the environmental registers during the project's operation. The EEAA has the authority to take action against violators of these criteria and conditions.[4]

Despite such, Revenue Watch Institute ranked Egypt at '0 out of 100' on the reporting practices of its extractive industry in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessments rating through the Resource Governance Index.[5]

National Legislation: Law 4/1994 Modified by Law 9/2009

Law No. 4, passed in 1994, is the main Environmental Law in Egypt. This law established the EEAA as the competent authority and the executive regulations of this law were set out in 1995 (Decree 338 of 1995). Some articles of Law 4 were modified by Law 9 of 2009, which dictates that the licensing authority must submit to EEAA for assessment of the environmental impacts of the the exploratory well.

A register shall be maintained to record the well’s impact on the environment, including information such as the emissions emanating or draining from the well, efficiency of treatment processes and details of environmental safety.[6]

What are Environmental Impact Assessments?

The overall objectives of the EIA are to:

  • Meet or surpass the environmental requirements of relevant authorities in Egypt and relevant international conventions;
  • Identify and analyse sensitive components of the existing environment;
  • Determine the type, nature and importance of the probable environmental impact during drilling and decommissioning;
  • Identify and recommend practical and cost effective mitigation measures early in the process to eliminate or minimize environmental impacts resulting from the project;
  • Ensure that all stakeholders deemed to be influenced by the projects or activities are fully considered, and that communication systems are established during the assessment process and remain effective throughout the life of the project.[7]

Environmental Impact

Marine Pollution

According to the Egypt State of Environment report of 2009, the Ministry of Environmental affairs indicated that refined petroleum products produced the highest percentage of pollutants (54%) to the marine environment, followed by crude oil (26%) and oily residues (14%). Causes of pollution were identified in failure to take required precautions, poor storage of liquid wastes, accidental spill of oil and chemicals, offshore activities and dumping of oily residues during loading and unloading.[8] CIA factbook reported that oil pollution in Egypt is threatening coral reefs, beaches, and marine habitats.[9]

According to the Environmental Information and Monitoring Programme, pollution originates from shipping, accidental spills of oil and chemicals and extractive offshore activities. Observations at the shore revealed that lumps of old tar were found in moderate quantities at Ras-Gharib City and Ras-Sudr. Small quantities were found at the beach of Ras-Gharib Harbor in the Gulf of Suez. Various quantities of thin oil films were found in Suez, and Ras-Gharib. The coastal water of the Red Sea proper and the Gulf of Aqaba region was found clean, except in few locations, such as Safaga in the Red sea and Sharm ElSheikh harbor and Sharm El-Sheikh, and Na'ama bay at the Gulf of Aqaba.[10]

Fracking

Also known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is used to tap into extremely deep fossil fuel reserves located 7,000 feet or more below the earth’s surface. Millions of liters of water and sand, combined with chemical substances, are used to send shocks through the rock layers and crack it open to release the trapped fossil fuels. Independent studies show that when fracking bores are made, the drills break through many other layers of underground water, gases, dirt and rock. Methane, benzene and other chemicals used are then able to seep into these layers and surrounding soil and water, and eventually the atmosphere.[11]

Fracking faces global opposition for its use of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals which seep into the groundwater, climate change impacts and its role in causing earthquakes (e.g. England and the US – as high as 4.0 on the Richter scale). As a result, the technology is currently banned or under moratorium in countries and states including France, Bulgaria, New York and Vermont.[12]

Shell is the first company to use foam fracking in North Africa. Other gas companies have been using different versions of the method for years.The United Arab Emirates-based Dana Gas has been fracking in Kom Ombo in the Nile Valley, and the Texas-based Apache Corporation has used the technique in the Western Desert near important aquifers. Local companies have also drilled using this method.[13]

In September 2012, The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights called on companies that frack to make public the chemical components used and processes of treatment and disposal, claiming that the method is likely to pollute Egypt's limited groundwater supplies.[14] EIPR outlines how fracking operations threaten water resources critical to Egypt’s well being. Fracking near Kom Ombo raises fears that toxic chemicals could leak into the Nile, threatening the lives and livelihoods of those downriver.[15]

References

  1. "Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)" WorleyParsons, 16 December 2010.
  2. "About MSEA - EEAA" Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, retrieved 10 May, 2013.
  3. "About MSEA - EEAA" Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, retrieved 10 May, 2013.
  4. "Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)" WorleyParsons, 16 December 2010.
  5. "RWI Egypt" Revenue Watch Institute, retrieved 10 May, 2013.
  6. "Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)" WorleyParsons, 16 December 2010.
  7. "Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)" WorleyParsons, 16 December 2010.
  8. "Egypt State of Environment Report 2009" Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, retrieved 10 May, 2013.
  9. "CIA Fact Book: Egypt" Central Intelligence Agency, retrieved 10 May, 2013.
  10. "The National Environmental Action Plan of Egypt 2002/17" Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, 1 December, 2001.
  11. "http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/are-oil-and-gas-companies-fracking-egypt-s-environment Are Oil and Gas Companies Fracking Up Egypt’s Environment?]" Egypt Independent, 21 October, 2012.
  12. "http://platformlondon.org/2012/09/19/shell-frack-egypt-egyptians-say-oi/ Shell Frack Egypt, Threatening Scarce Water Resources; Egyptians Demand Moratorium]" Egypt Independent, 21 October, 2012.
  13. "http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/are-oil-and-gas-companies-fracking-egypt-s-environment Are Oil and Gas Companies Fracking Up Egypt’s Environment?]" Platform London, 19 September, 2012.
  14. "http://eipr.org/en/pressrelease/2012/09/19/1492 EIPR Warns: Gas Extraction Using Hydraulic Fracturing Threatens Egypt’s Water Resources]" Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, 19 September, 2012.
  15. "http://platformlondon.org/2012/09/19/shell-frack-egypt-egyptians-say-oi/ Shell Frack Egypt, Threatening Scarce Water Resources; Egyptians Demand Moratorium]" Egypt Independent, 21 October, 2012.