Kenyan official seeks government action as oil drilling halted

By George Obulutsa and Humphrey Malalo

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Drilling was suspended for a second day on Sunday at Tullow Oil's two exploration blocks in northwest Kenya because of local protests, and a senior local official called for intervention by the government.

Tullow Oil said late on Saturday it had temporarily suspended drilling operations on Block 10BB and Block 13T in northwest Kenya due to security concerns after local residents held protests demanding more jobs at the sites.

Josphat Nanok, the governor for Turkana County, said that local lawmakers also had spurred residents in the area to hold demonstrations over unspecified grievances.

"These protests have now turned more or less violent to a point where national government has to intervene. It's also been fuelled by the local members of parliament. The grievances are not so clear," he told Reuters by phone.

"This is an issue now with the national government. It's escalated to (a matter of) security, so let national government deal with it."

Tullow and its partner Africa Oil have struck oil on both blocks and are in the process of determining its commercial viability.

The police have increased security patrols in the affected areas but have made no arrests, Administration Police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi said.

"I can confirm there was a protest on Saturday by local people protesting on being denied employment. The local administration and leaders in the region are in a meeting trying to resolve the dispute," Mwinyi said.

Tullow officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but the company has said that about 860 of the 1,400 workers on the drilling sites hail from the area.

On Saturday, Tullow said it would not comment on whether any of its staff had to be evacuated from the sites, which are located in a remote part of the east African nation.

In July, London-listed Tullow, which is already producing oil in Ghana and awaiting government approval to do so in Uganda, estimated resources in the Lokichar basin in Kenya's northwest at 300 million barrels of crude oil.

Tullow holds a 50 percent stake and is the operator of both the 13T and 10BB blocks, with Africa Oil holding the rest.

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