Mainstreaming Safeguarding Principles in Liberia’s Petroleum Sector Legislation

A petroleum facility in Liberia, here at the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company.


By Ambulai Jorkey Johnson


Jonesboro, Georgia


The policy experts involved in the writing of Liberia’s Petroleum law (2002) perhaps overlooked important aspects of the petroleum sector, including “Critical Safeguard, Oil Spill, and Environmental Sustainability”. The omission of “safeguard in alignment with Safety, Health and Environment” as was proposed by the Petroleum Law makes said document inadequate. “Safeguard”, which is a cardinal initiative to mitigate risks to person, environment, and facility, cannot be overlooked in the development of essential laws regulating the petroleum industry.

This piece provides an additional intuitive response to address Safeguard, Oil Spill, and Environmental Sustainability which are not covered by the Liberia Petroleum Law of 2002.


The word safeguarding is generic in nature. In the context of the Petroleum sector, safeguard is an emergency action that protects the environment, health, and safety through the instrumentation of statutory compliance from the aggression that could cause serious injury.

Safeguarding is not just restricted to protection but it is also applied in the investigation and improvement of the environment, health, and safety in accordance with established procedures. The formulae of safeguarding policies and laws are critical to stabilizing the Liberian economy through an extractive economic sector, like the hydrocarbon exploratory industry of Liberia. The failure to incorporate safeguarding principles in-laws by regulating the hydrocarbon sector regrettably leads to the mishandling of the environment as was the case in Congo where parliament failed to incorporate safeguarding principles in their hydrocarbons law (Global Witness 2013).

Today, due to the massive environmental impact of offshore oil and gas industry, roughly seventy (70) international conventions and agreements are straightly in line with offshore protection of the marine environment (Stanislav, P. and Cascio, E., 1999). On the differing, they pointed out in the new monograph “Environmental Impact of the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry,” that all those international conventions and agreement are not committed to offshore oil and gas development. Therefore, marine environment, safety, social protection, and cooperate responsibility issues in safeguarding national interests should be a priority for any host country in legislation and regulatory frameworks.

To prioritize safety during Petroleum operations in accordance with applicable law is an acceptable practice in the international oil industry. The omission of safeguard in the 2002 petroleum law of Liberia posed a real threat to not only the safety of the rig and the crews but also to the environment and the economy.  With the right laws and proper management, Liberia can also be transformed because of the discovery of the oil and gas in commercial quantities. Consequently, without a doubt, safeguard is the epitome in the process of petroleum exploration, seismic acquisition and drilling because of environmental challenges faced during oil and gas exploratory process.

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf here dedicating a newly constructed Fuel Unloading Facility at the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company`s (LPRC) Petroleum Storage Terminal in Monrovia on December 20, 2017.

Safeguards and controls are the fundamental instruments in the petroleum sector as a thoughtful consideration in the risk mitigation process. It is important to incorporate Safeguarding into Petroleum laws.

The process of safeguarding and the benefits of any petroleum operation will accrue from using safeguarding method accurately with the proviso of required legislation. A strong legislative law that reflects best practices and mitigates the damage to the environment by the process of safeguarding also yields enormous benefits. Considering the core implication of threats and injury in the hydrocarbon basin, safeguarding ought to be integrated into a full spectrum to satisfy the guiding principle. The guiding principle is found to identify potential hazard and threats. With the kind of advance application and management technique to enhance best environmental practices in the Petroleum sector, it is sad to pen a petroleum law without critical safeguarding principles. Excluding the environmental safeguard and control aspects of the petroleum sector by those drafters of the “New Petroleum Law of 2002” clearly acknowledged their flaws. Environmental safeguard goes with safety or environmental health and safety to mitigate potential impact. When safety procedures are ignored or absent in the Petroleum sector, it ultimately results in calamitous consequences thereby undermining economic, human survivability of the country and neighboring countries.  With rigid unfolding issues brazen out in the Petroleum sector, it is shattering and signal unpatriotic moves for policymakers that drafted the “New Petroleum Law of 2002” in omitting the “Critical Safeguard”. Legislative intentional failure to reforms oil and gas Laws might cause a serious accident to our environment.

Former President Charles Taylor reinvigorated the Petroleum sector through the establishment of the National Oil Company of Liberia and enactment of the New Petroleum Law 2002.  The experts working in the sector then perhaps overlooked the fact that the protection of the natural environment is a driving force, and perhaps did not recognize that oil exploitation can also improve economy substantially, but with serious environmental costs. They did not create responsible laws and standards for safeguarding the community, and the environment, but they redirected to providing security and fill the pockets of the few elites.

Then, omitting safeguard in the Petroleum law 2002 was disastrous and exposed the oil basins and its environment to hazard than the current Petroleum law 2016 which incorporated the safeguard to address specifics.

Oil Spill

An oil spill is a friendless occurrence that is controversial in oil producing and exploratory countries. Liberia is currently in the exploratory stage of its thirty concessionary blocks. From Petroleum and Environmental engineering perspective, all stages of oil exploitation have a negative impact on the environment, including exploration. Assuming during exploration, drill cuttings, drill mud, and fluids are certainly used for stimulating production. If there is a distortion “Kick”, it eventually leads to blow-up that causes oil spill which has the propensity to contaminate the environment base on the magnitude of the spill.

When Oil spills, most part of streams and rivers will be an additional environmental smash up, thus rendering the water polluted and unusable for the community. Blowouts due to uncontrolled pressures during drilling and oil spills scenarios have had their toll on the hydrocarbon industry. Though human errors have led to major oil spills event, with effective controls in the workplace, still; risks can be reduced. The question continues to be asked: How can the drafters do a Petroleum Law by skipping the protection policies and its requirement in the Petroleum Sector?  The Piper Oil Spill disaster (July 6, 1988) is an instructive candidate for illustrative discussions in occupational health and safety. The scale of the disaster makes room for a repeated academic investigation into the tragedy and gives it prominence in reviewing process risk and evaluation of complex decision-making process.

To the occupational health and safety specialist, the Piper Oil Spill disaster is remembered as one of the worst in human history and epitomized the need for an in-depth and continuous review of strategies in evaluating industrial practices. Today, the effects of the calamity still ring a bell in the minds of oil field workers, most especially those in the United Kingdom, although the disaster attracted global attention. The disaster typifies a scenario to learn from. The sole justification for this is the scale of the damage. The tragedy affected not only persons but also the environment and facility. With colossal death toll and economic loss, the tragedy is considered the worst in the history of oil and gas activities in the UK.

Though the recent New Petroleum Exploration and Production Reform Act 2016 “provides or incorporate the general requirement for the environmental management plan and emergency preparedness during the planning and drilling operations” yet still, further substantive research must be done in finding a remediable option of the Petroleum sector. Liberia is directly into exploration and seismic interpretation. The concern of oil spill response or emergency preparedness and environmental management plan is a deep-seated matter that should not be taken lightly. Oil spill incidents are stochastic. As such, no one knows when or precisely where or how they may occur (onshore or offshore). Liberia has been experiencing massive rainfall for the past Four years. And Liberia has a semidiurnal tide when there is a spill the oil may persist longer on the shoreline even when the spill happens offshore

Introducing Environmental Safeguards Provisions of the New Petroleum Law of 2016

The new petroleum law of 2016 recognizes emergency preparedness during the planning and drilling operations. This portion of the law is imperative in identifying sensitive receptors before a spill incident.  In this light, protection priorities can be set, and cleanup strategies can also be outlined ahead of Oil spill preparedness in using the Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) as part of Oil Spill Contingency plan (OSCP).

Regarding such an inclusive proponent by the new law of 2016 in protecting the environment and its citizen, it is also important that the Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Lands, Mines, and Energy, and the Petroleum Regulatory Authority play leading roles in proffering rigorous environmental standards or practices in meeting international environmental law. Introducing and using the ESI maps by those relevant institutions for oil spill response reduces environmental impacts of the spill and that of cleanup activities. During the use of ESI maps, this process can be compiled using data from three main components: Shoreline habitats, Sensitive biological resources, and Human-use resources especially in various counties where the blocks are located.

Environmental Sustainability

Liberia’s engagements in the hydrocarbon sector verbalize volumes in promoting environmental sustainability and biodiversity management. The current petroleum act 2016 endorses the interest of environmental sustainability and biodiversity management. This New Petroleum Law 2016 signifies an obvious admiration of the importance and implications of embracing sustainable development through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Environmental management plans are vital, especially with regards to the exploratory process of Liberia. Unsuccessful exploration activity requires decommissioning and rehabilitation as a facet of the proper environmental plan. Hope some of the thirty concessionary blocks should undergo commissioning and rehabilitation. This is critical to avoiding an adverse environmental consequence in subsequent time In Liberia. As an oil exploratory country (Liberia), it is not just about regarding international health and safety standards, but to noticeably observe every exploratory activity in protecting the environment from pollution. Protecting the environment is considered the crux and indicator of measurable progress as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

There are extractive and mining companies operating in Liberia. The Sustainable Development Goals stress that poverty reduction is the measure of sound, sustainable environmental practice. Thus, nourishing the debate on sustainable development in Liberia is to emanate Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as tools of a guiding principle of sustainability towards the developmental agenda of Mama Liberia. Public participation through the view of citizens on EIA and permit application will surely be appreciated for local benefit from various operations. In practice, no country will be satisfied to have a low Human Development Index (HDI) like Liberia.

With such a low unsustainable achievement in the context of Human development, policies, reform, and enforcement should be a forerunner in meeting its economic status quo for sound and sustainable Human development. Fast forward, the exploration process of Liberia has the predisposition to induce economic, social and cultural changes through environmental sustainability and biodiversity. Nonetheless, NOCAL has an economic shutdown, which resulted in the downsizing of employees and this is best known to the government (Madam Sirleaf regime). I cannot further comment until a proper auditing report is available because this is another compelling issue that needs to be debated. Based upon the seismic report, I am cognizant of the fact that NOCAL will suffice and contribute immensely to the growth and development of the economy provided the right (competencies) and honest people are given the chance to do the job without vindictiveness and unjustifiable nepotism.


There are several dangers that emanate from the issue of petroleum exploration with the lack of environmental safeguarded provision. The lack of proper environmental safeguard has the potential to trigger environmental crises beyond the local to a trans-regional terrain. Liberia offshore activities need serious environmental assessment because the outcome of this kind of scale has an enormous offshore effect. As such, the environment (Marine) should be keenly protected. Offshore facilities vary widely and are greatly influenced by field production size, Water depth, and Environmental conditions.  Fortunately, with the new petroleum law of 2016 that identifies emergency preparedness during the planning and drilling operations, therefore risk assessment, safety and contingency planning as part of the decision support framework should be carefully monitored in avoiding marine pollution and impacts of offshore activities. Regarding historical event of major accidents in the onshore and offshore during both exploration and production, it is incumbent upon the Service Company or National Oil company (NOC) exploring in the Liberia basin to institute a preventive measure of hazards, calls on operating companies to demonstrate that human factors and the environment should adequately be addressed at every stage of exploration. Appreciating and including an Environmental safeguard in the New Petroleum Law 2016 should not be a written dossier but needs to be monitored to ensure that they have appropriate stability and solidity for their use in protecting the environment and employees.

About the Author:

Ambulai Jorkey Johnson is an Energy, Environmental, and Health Research Professional. He has been trained in the fields of Natural Science, Environmental & Petroleum Studies, Public Health, Climate Change, Water and Wastewater Treatment, Global Leadership, and Alternative Energy. He employs critical and emerging principle in each field to address health and environmental safety issues, create social and technological advancements, and reduce risk and disease caused by environmental hazards. He can be contacted at recopeed.liberia@gmail.com.

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