Unity State oil pollution, South Sudan


Oil accounts for nearly all of the newly-formed South Sudans export earnings (98% of total revenue, according to the IMF); it has also been responsible for pollution, a major source of conflict between the government and local communities and resulting in the loss of traditional livelihoods of the local Dinka and Nuer communities. Soil and water contamination, loss of grazing land and deforestation are some of the negative effects[1]. One well-publicised case involves White Nile Petroleum Company (WNPOC), a consortium led by Malaysias Petronas, which has been operating in Unity State since 2006 in the vicinity of the Sudd wetlands, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. News reports say thousands were forcefully evicted, losing their ancestral homes and their livelihoods. News agency AFP quoted from sample results from the Thar Jath oil plant, which indicated that brine from the refinery produced a high salinity, putting the concentration of nitrate at 81.6 mg/l, above the 10 mg/l recommended by the the US Environmental Protection Agency. These figures came from German human rights organization Sign of Hope, which took water samples in the area. Nitrate measurements at this level could have serious health consequences, especially for young children[2]. These reports are dated 2009, but recent news reports appear to indicate that pollution is still a problem. Quoted by the Sudan Tribune, Koch County Commissioner John Chuol Wang said pollution from oil companies operating in his area was damaging the environment and water supply for local people. He said environmental practices had not improved since autonomy in 2005 or independence in 2011[3].

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Basic Data
NameUnity State oil pollution, South Sudan
CountrySouth Sudan
ProvinceUnity State
SiteThar Jath
Accuracy of LocationLOW country/state level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific CommoditiesCrude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe US Energy Administration Information estimates that crude oil production in Sudan and South Sudan averaged about 425,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2011. Block 5A, which contains the Thar Jath and Mala oil fields operated by WNPOC, produced around 15,000 bbl/d in 2011[4].

Project Area (in hectares)400000
Level of Investment (in USD)$30million (3-year initial exploration investment)
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected PopulationN/A
Start Date2006
Company Names or State EnterprisesWhite Nile Petroleum Company (WNPOC) from Malaysia
PETRONAS from Malaysia
India s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) from India
South Sudan Petroleum Operation Company from Sudan
Relevant government actorsMinistry of Environment, Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSign of Hope, European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS), Global Witness
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local government/political parties
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths
OtherSickness observed and water pollution blamed.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Based on recent news reports, pollution remains a problem.
Sources and Materials

Sudan Environmental Policy Act (2001)

Petroleum Act

Draft Petroleum Revenue Management Bill


[1] Norad (undated). Multi-donor evaluation of support to conflict prevention and peacebuilding activity in Southern Sudan since 2005. Available at: Accessed 15 February 2013.
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[2] AFP (2008). South Sudan villagers, environment suffer from oil boom. Available at: Accessed 12 February 2013.
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[3] Sudan Tribue (2012). Oil producing areas demand better services and safety. Available at: Accessed 14 February 2013.
[click to view]

[4] US Energy Information Administration (2012). Sudan and South Sudan Country Analysis Brief. Available at: Accessed 15 February 2013
[click to view]


European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (2009). White Nile Petroleum Operating Corporation response to concerns over water contamination. Available at: Accessed 15 February 2013.
[click to view]

European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (2009). Sign of Hope responds to WNPOCs reaction. Available at: Accessed 14 February 2013.
[click to view]

Global Witness (2012). Blueprint for prosperity. Available at: Accessed 15 February 2013.
[click to view]

Sudan Tribune (2006). Understanding White Niles acquisition of oil concession in S. Sudan. Available at: Accessed 15 February 2013.
[click to view]

Media Links

ABNDigital (2010). Oil companies are polluting Sudans ground water with Klaus Stieglitz. Available at: Accessed 14 February 2013.
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AFP (2010). Oil pollution a catastrophe in southern Sudan. Available at: Accessed 14 February 2013.
[click to view]

The Guardian (2009). Sudans White Nile marshes polluted by oil production. Available at: Accessed 14 February 2013.
[click to view]



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ContributorPatrick Burnett
Last update08/04/2014