Management Prescriptions: the “how-to” of Lake Kivu

Imagine now, for a moment, that you go to a technical conference. First of its kind. Almost 150 people are there. Outside the windows we can see Lake Kivu. It’s all calm, pristine. Its blue waters lapped on the sandy beach. But everyone’s aware of strange, unexplained things in the deep. The stories were apocryphal, swimmers disappear, boats sink. So with lots of scientists invited, government staffers too, business people, we could learn. Some 20 countries are represented, maybe 25. Two nations were there, neighbours. But they had not been on speaking terms for years due to wars and even genocide. Quite enough tension and uncertainty at the start. This is where the “Management Prescriptions” started.

The professors spoke, a mix of authority and leading questions. There were limnologists, volcanologists, environmentalists, hydrologists. Scientists came with questions and their own answers, each setting their stalls as a subject authority. Each seemed sure of their standing; the pre-eminence of their ideas and interpretation. Government teams introduced themselves and let us know they were there to listen. Diplomats and multi-lateral agencies were there to listen too; the subject was complex and no-one seemed sure who actually had the answers.

What had to be agreed in the document?

All of us knew there was much to figure out in reaching consensus and common purpose. We’d heard about dangers, volcanoes and gas eruptions. Going in I only knew few of the attendees, all Ministry of Energy staffers.

This February 2007 conference was between the two countries bordering Lake Kivu, the DRC and Rwanda. The workshop in Gisenyi was held on lake Kivu’s shores. Indeed, the location was a constant reminder to discuss its safe development. The government of Rwanda had opened a cal five years earlier for developers to start producing gas for power. But studies undertaken showed early evidence that competing ideas on how to do that were uncoordinated. At worst they could be conflicting each other’s operations.

As day one rolled into day two, questions started to outnumber answers. And the answers did not all agree. The 1975 data was dated, but some more recent data from 2004 surveys was being interpreted. However some ideas clashed, understandings were at odds. But if anyone had hoped that we’d all come away with all the answers, they were wrong. We now knew more about what we didn’t know than we’d thought beforehand.

Why did we need them?

During that workshop, the two countries signed an MoU on next steps to be taken to establish the bilateral institutional framework. The framework was to be for the monitoring of Lake Kivu, for the safety of the population and for the environment. The starting point of reference was the 1986 “Socigaz” document that had been bilaterally agreed to govern the use of Lake Kivu for gas extraction.

But circumstances and design ideas had changed since then. The program was primarily to discuss the issues at play in organising more coordinated development of the lake and how to confirm or modify the older Socigaz regulations. The organisers also wished to table new data, new issues and further define the rules of use of the lake. Indeed, the core theme was again to promote lake safety.

But for coordination, the conference had to agree on how establishing common purpose and regulate it. As the conference entered its last session, time had run out to complete this objective. The convener co-opted a group of five experts to extend the discussion “for a few hours or days” and then report back to the organisers. This ad-hoc team of experts reviewed and considered acceptance the current version of rules. Their report-back would confirm their findings.

The series of meetings on Lake Kivu

This Expert Working Group of scientists and technicians reviewed the Socigaz document. But the group rejected its validity as a basis for further development of Lake Kivu. The consensus was that the document was insufficient and too simplistic for the purpose. This group then resolved to work on the new version of the rules and regulations for safe gas extraction from Lake Kivu.

In fact, the exercise extended by over six months. By then it was apparent that agreement was becoming more difficult. Many more issues and concerns arose from deeper analysis. Two schools of thought arose. The team started to question the technical premise on how degassing the lake would be done. At the core of the investigation, the team questioned whether the “legacy” method destroyed the natural safety structure, leaving it unsafe for the long term.

Finalising the MP document

EAWAG organised a follow-up conference in Kastanienbaum, Switzerland in October 2007. In it, the parties made significant progress in understanding impacts of extraction methods. They drafted an early version of the discussion. Later in May 2008, COWI facilitated a further conference of the Experts. John Boyle led the team’s first draft the Management Prescriptions for Lake Kivu Development. Dr Finn Hirslund of COWI hosted the event in Copenhagen, Denmark with World Bank sponsorship. The parties agreed to repeat the exercise a year later in Copenhagen to finalise the document.

The outcome of three years of work later was this key document. Then in June 2009 the experts and conveners of the conference issued as the Management Prescriptions for Lake Kivu Development.

Introduction to Management Prescriptions

1.1 Safe gas extraction in Lake Kivu

The governments of Rwanda and the DRC wished to engage leading experts to explore beneficial ways of exploiting the methane resource in Lake Kivu. It needed to be in a safe, environmentally sound, yet economically profitable way. Reduction of the methane and carbon dioxide content of the waters of lake Kivu was necessary to reduce the risk of sudden eruption of these gases. Minister Albert Butare was Minister of State for Energy in Rwanda. In his role he reached out to all stakeholders, including the Ministry of Hydrocarbons in the DRC.

1.2 Rationale for the conferences

Since the signing of the bilateral MoU, the Expert Working Group has elaborated a Management Prescriptions document. This document delineates basic principles for determining the size, number, location and design of extraction operations. Indeed, it establishes mandatory requirements and guidelines for any gas extraction plant’s design and operation.

Also, the NCEA has provided further advice through its “Advice on Harvesting the Methane Resource and Monitoring the Stratification of Lake Kivu” of 27 August 2007. NCEA also provided its secretariat memo of February 2008. This was on a strategy and action plan for monitoring in Lake Kivu Monitoring, which includes required institutional steps. Meanwhile, the Rwandan government started the extraction of methane through its KP1 pilot plant.

Given that gas extraction operations involved high risk, they need to be done according to agreed-upon safety standards. But without having a bilateral legal and institutional context in which to operate. Thus the Government of Rwanda decided to call for a second conference. Indeed the topic was on safe gas extraction from Lake Kivu. Therefore the conference proceeded in order to come to such arrangements.

1.3 Conference objectives & outcomes

Besides an exchange of most recent collective knowledge and insights, the conference’s objectives were two-fold:

(i) To agree on the need to establish a bilateral authority with regulatory mandate over Lake Kivu. The conference reached agreement on a road map towards it’s establishment and operational mandate;

(ii) To validate and adopt the Management Prescriptions document that the Expert Working Group prepared over the past two years.

Mr. John Boyle (World Bank) coordinated the ad-hoc Expert Working Group from March 2007 to May 2008. The expert working group members were: Dr Finn Hirslund, Mr Philip Morkel and Dr. Klaus Tietze. Then Dr. Martin Schmid and Prof. Alfred Wüest later joined the group.

John Boyle had left the Group before the May 2009 meeting of the experts and interested parties. Philip Morkel assumed the role as scribe for the final document for issue.

Attendees at the 2009 Copenhagen conference on Lake Kivu's Management Prescriptions
Attendees at the 2009 Copenhagen conference on Lake Kivu’s Management Prescriptions

Notes on the Workshop Report May 2009:

Rwanda’s ESIA Profile:

The Management Prescriptions Document:

6 thoughts on “Management Prescriptions: the “how-to” of Lake Kivu

  1. Hi Phillip

    The only viable transportation fuel you’all should be considering is hydrogen .
    Why not build electrified railways for transportation
    Using trucks to move goods is a stupid British / North American idea whose time has passed

    Thank You and Best Regards
    Zbigniew Roman Pedzinski

    1. I take your point Zbigniew, and agree in principle.

      Practicality does not support hydrogen or electric railways yet, although the prespective from Europe may seem simpler and logical.

      In Africa many countries bypassed fixed line telephony and moved onto mobile phones for 99% of communication. That leap was possible and highly successful. A large portion of the vehicle fleets come from Japan, the Middle East and Europe as second-hand discards. None of those are yet electric or hydrogen fuelled.

      Leaping past having future oil refineries (there is plenty of oil in Uganda) to hydrogen in the interior is a grand idea. But that part of Africa lacks the critical needs of power supply, the affordability of a hydrogen car/truck fleets, high-tech engineering and construction capacity etc. There are things that are possible in the next decade or two, but hydrogen won’t be a policy priority for governments for decades.

      However, this is in the African interior and the governments and African Union have been talking of and planning rail network expansion for decades. They lack the money and anchor customers, although Chinese rail builders would do it at the cost of increased indebtedness. Any rail build will not likely be electrified. The cost of adding that, and the availbility of power to support electrification, are not justified by the traffic volume yet.

      As for me, I’m not in the railway business. I’ve not been involved in oil refining for 25 years. My small company has to stick with things we can afford, has high impact and we can do better than others. We stay away from things that are well beyond our financial capacity and not our expertise. But what we will do is a key step on the way to wider electrification at more affordable cost.

      I appreciate your interest.

      Regards, Philip

  2. Hi Phillip ,

    Thank you for your thoughts .

    I would like to point out that the entire world is awash with carbon dioxide and any “cutsie” scheme (like dry ice refrig) you dream up will only add to the carbon dioxide that will have to be removed by other folks .

    In the western world It is sufficient to produce electricity , you’all , in Africa , unfortunately suffer from a lack of electrical distribution capacity .
    But you must expand your electrical distribution and not cave into the short term expedient of “easily transportable ” dry ice for refrigeration .

    Have you taken and injected truckloads of “lake kivu water” into area CO2 lakes in order to inocculate them with methane producing bacteria or are you just blowing smoke ?

    Why don’t you let me come and help you

    Thank You and Best Regards
    Zbigniew Roman Pedzinski

    1. Hi Zbigniew,

      One of the realities of CO2, and also renewable or fossil natural gas, is that their market is mostly local unless they can scale up. Transport from the African hinterland costs more than the value of the product in any other export market. Even oil exports from the region makes no economic sense at current prices. So the market solutions have to be local.

      In the case of CO2, market value or usability is strictly local and driven by local needs. In the countries I am dealing with, refrigeration is a luxury used by just 5% of the population. Electricity is twice the price it is in Europe, while GDP per capita is less than 10% of Europe. Dry ice can have an essential (not cute) role for decades, doing the work of refrigeration long before it’s widely affordable by electrical means. Think of the need for storing vaccines, medicines in general, food products of all types that all deteriorate within a day or two in the heat of Africa. It wasn’t more than a century ago in Europe that winter ice was cut up and stored for summer refrigeration, for the same needs and just for the wealthy.

      On your last point there’s no need to transport a single truckload of water, one can isolate the innoculum easily and transport it anywhere in a little vial for methane generation. Chances are that it’s in every lake already, including Lake Baikal in Siberia. However, the key ingredient is not the bacteria, it is a lake deep enough, warm enough, close to the equator (no coriolis force) and stratified to form a gas trap. That is rare. Lake Baikal does a little of it, but not nearly enough to be economic. Gas seeps from permafrost will be far easier to harvest. No blowing smoke here, just sensible, practical, nature-based solutions that cost surprisingly little.

      If we are successful with our project, two countries and perhaps a third will become net-zero or likely carbon negative within ten years. If Europe is offered as your example, African countries will be leading them in no time with green economy credentials. Added options can produce ethanol from CO2 and convert some to protein (with Finnish technology) to reduce farm contributions to carbon emissions.

      Come up with some more ideas. Some of them may help.

      Regards, Philip

  3. I am a chemical engineer from Sarnia ON Canada . Some years ago I worked in teaching Hydrocarbon Processing technology in Doha , Qatar . While there , I became interested in Lake Kivu .
    I am of the opinion that extracted carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide generated by gas turbines must be re-injected back into the lake at extraction depth , so that process becomes sustainable .
    I am of the opinion that this methane creation technology can be exported to other lakes producing carbon dioxide and used to generate sustainable electrical power (provided carbon dioxide generated by turbines is re-injected back into lake at depth )

    1. Hi Zbigniew.
      On your first point you are right to observe that there are options to make the process more circular with respect to carbon. We have several plans developing on that front. Some are based on developing technology, such as production of protein from CO2/water/electricity. Others use the CO2 to produce ethanol as a fuel supplement. This process is being developed in Chicago at the Pritzker School. There are others that can also produce very low carbon liquid fuels. We are keen to see the economics of each, but what is true is that we can re-inject most of the CO2 back to depth. Alternatively we can produce a side-stream, several times larger than our methane production, of 99% CO2 as a feedstock at very low price. We have contemplated producing dry-ice in a region where refrigeration is barely used.
      The methane production process is assumed to be largely the acetate-pathway of dead algae digestion in the anoxic depths. Few lakes have the depth, layered density structure and lack of coriolis forces to enable them to act as a stable store of gas produced like Lake Kivu. It would be a great opportunity for the lake to function as a very large scale CCUS system. We’d like to create that possibility.

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