Monday, March 9, 2009

Environmental Law

The United Nations (UN) Environment Programme has credited Oman with having one of the best records in environmental conservation, pollution control and maintenance of ecological balance. Oman is even stated as having one of the world’s most rigorously “green” governments. Oman’s biodiversity is catered for by varying topographic features, with vast arid deserts in the West, to a belt of grass and woodland in the mountainous region of the South, with the Arabian Sea in the East.

Oman has ratified many international treaties related to environmental protection, including the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UN Framework Convention on Climatic Change, and the UN Agreement on Prevention of Desertification in Countries Facing Severe Arid Conditions.

Environmental problems currently faced by Oman include:

  • • high levels of soil and water salinity in the coastal plains;
  • • scarcity of water due to prolonged drought in certain areas;
  • • industrial effluents seeping into the water tables and aquifers; and
  • • desertification due to high winds driving desert sand into arable lands.
Legal Framework
Oman’s environmental regime is primarily regulated by the Law on the Conservation of the Environment and Combating of Pollution (Royal Decree No. 114/01), 2001. Although its forerunner (of the same name − Royal Decree No. 10/82) now stands repealed, it enabled the enactment of a series of environmental legislation, most of which continues to be in force today.

Legislation for wildlife protection and nature conservation is mainly comprised of three Royal Decrees and two Ministerial Decisions:
  1. The Law on the Protection of National Heritage (Royal Decree No. 6/80), 1980;
  2. The Law on the Protection of Marine Biological Wealth (Royal Decree No. 53/81), 1981;
  3. The Law on the Conservation of the Environment and Combating Pollution;
  4. Ministerial Decision No. 4/76; and
  5. Ministerial Decision No. 128/93.
Proclamations on protected areas are to be found in three Royal Decrees:
  1. The Protection of Arabian Oryx (Royal Decree No. 4/94), 1994;
  2. Establishing the Turtle Sanctuary (Royal Decree No. 23/96), 1996; and
  3. Establishing Animal Reserves and Natural Parks (Royal Decree No. 48/97, No. 49/97, and No. 50/97), 1997.
Royal Decree No. 68/79 established the Council for Conservation of Environment and Prevention of Pollution, under the chairmanship of His Majesty the Sultan Qaboos ibn Sa’id. Royal Decree No. 45/84 established the ministry of environment − the first of its kind in the Arab world − which, pursuant to Royal Decree No. 90/07, is now called the ministry of environment and climate affairs (the ministry).

The Law on the Conservation of the Environment and Combating of Pollution
The Law on the Conservation of the Environment and Combating of Pollution defines terms such as “the environment”, “environmental protection”, “pollution/pollutants”, “hazardous material”, “dumping”, etc. This law makes it mandatory for an owner of a place of work to obtain a license before setting up an establishment, and to follow the procedure specified by the ministry to minimize waste at the source of pollution, thus preventing pollution. It also stipulates that such owners should refrain from carrying out or permitting any discharge and release of environmental pollutants in excess of the standards specified by the ministry, but excludes from its purview any emergency measures to save lives or to safeguard the place of work. The owner must maintain a register on the quantity, nature, and method of effluent discharge at the establishment.

This law prohibits the discharge of hazardous material, sewage and waste into wadis (dry riverbeds), aquifers, rain water disposal networks, falaj (water management systems) and their channels, and the use or disposal of treated sewage water without permission. Ships and vessels are barred from discharging oil and other environmental pollutants into the Exclusive Economic Zone of Oman. Penalties for the violation of this law range from OMR 200 to OMR 1 million, with imprisonment in certain instances. Annexure 1 of this law lists certain endangered species, the hunting of which results in penalties ranging from imprisonment for six months to five years, and/or a fine of OMR 1,000 to OMR 5,000. Annexure 2 details other animals the hunting of which attracts a penalty of OMR 100 to OMR 1,000, and/or imprisonment for not more than three months.

The Petroleum Law
The Petroleum Law (Royal Decree No. 42/74), 1974, makes it mandatory to obtain prior approval before engaging in the exploration, extraction, exploitation, storage or distribution of petroleum or mineral resources. Prior approval is also needed to undertake activities involving processing plants, pipelines, storage tanks, storage facilities, ports, jetties, offshore platforms or installations, sea and marine loading facilities, pumps or pumping stations.

This law requires licensed operators to conduct their operations in a manner that minimizes air and water pollution and, which is safe to the health and wellbeing of their employees and the public. Any person violating this law is liable for loss or damage suffered by a third party or the government, directly or indirectly as a consequence of the violation. The compensation for such loss or damage is not limited to the direct loss incurred and includes consequential and economic loss.

Terms such as “operator”, “due diligence”, “waste”, “unsafe act”, etc, are all defined in this law.

An application for an environmental license must be accompanied by a comprehensive environment feasibility report, assessing the benefits of granting the license as compared to the probable damage or adverse impact on the environment.

Ministerial Decision No. 209/95 on Environmental Permits for Industrial and Commercial Establishments provides that permit holders must comply with the conditions set out in their environmental permit. Notwithstanding the penalties prescribed in other environmental laws, a breach of this provision would be subject to an initial fine of 100 Omani Rials (OMR), with 15 days to rectify the breach, failing which a further fine of OMR 50 per day for three weeks is applicable, as well as the closure of the establishment for continued breach. This law empowers the relevant authority to suo moto (rectify any breach posing risk to the public and the environment), at the expense of the permit holder.

Main Areas of Environmental Concern
Hazardous and non-hazardous waste and substances

Ministerial Decision No. 17/93 on the Management of Solid Non-Hazardous Waste deals with solid or semi-solid material, such as household waste and solid materials from commercial and industrial establishments, which does not pose any danger to the environment or public health if its disposal is effected in a safe and scientific way. Solid non-hazardous wastes must be stored, collected and transported to a site designated by the relevant authority for this purpose. The relevant authority is the relevant municipality that falls under the ministry of regional municipalities and water resources.

Ministerial Decision No. 18/93 on the Management of Hazardous Waste includes in its definition of “hazardous waste” any waste from commercial, industrial or other activities, which by nature, composition or quantity or for any other reason is hazardous, or threatens to be hazardous to the
environment. All hazardous waste must be labeled and packed according to the relevant regulations, and stored in approved storage facilities until it is removed in accordance with the terms of the license issued by the ministry.

The Law Regulating the Circulation and Use of Chemicals (Royal Decree No. 46/95), 1995, defines a “chemical substance” as a substance listed as “dangerous” in the international classification standards of dangerous substances that have an effect on public health and the environment. However, this law excludes “explosives”, the use and circulation of which is
governed by separate legislation. A license is mandatory for the use, manufacture, import, export, transport, storage and circulation of a chemical substance.

Ministerial Decision No. 145/93 on Wastewater Re-Use and Discharge prohibits the discharge of wastewater or sludge into the environment, in whatever form or condition, without a permit to do so. It also provides for regulating the quality of wastewater and its reuse. Before reuse, the
wastewater or the sludge is required to be tested to determine its pH value and the quantity of various metals in it. Those with high concentration of metals are disposed of in landfills with prior approval of the ministry. Wastewater may only be discharged where its re-use is not possible.

Royal Oman Police Civil Defence Regulations deals with public protection and safety in commercial establishments, addressing the following:
  • • Specific and detailed requirements applicable to establishments involved in the use and storage of petrochemical products and the production of gas;
  • • Protection of personnel and safety requirements in work places;
  • • Transportation for dangerous chemicals; and
  • • Training to deal with fire and emergencies.
The Civil Defence Law (Royal Decree No. 76/91), 1991, provides for:
  • • Chalking out contingency plans for disaster management;
  • • Measures to be undertaken during emergencies;
  • • The conditions for import, manufacture, storage, sale and transport of radioactive or other substances which are dangerous to public safety; and
  • • Safety and rescue rules and plans to be adopted during land, sea and air
Marine pollution
The Law on Marine Pollution Control (Royal Decree No. 34/74), 1974, brought to light Oman’s early concern for the safety of its marine environment. This law prohibits the discharge or release of any pollutant from a ship, shore location or oil transport facility in the Pollution Free Zone of Oman. This zone is the belt of water around Oman’s territorial waters, which stretched for a distance of 38 miles. Any person violating the provisions of this law is subject to a maximum penalty of OMR 25,000 for a single violation, and of OMR 4 million for multiple violations, and may also be deprived, either temporarily or permanently, of all environmental rights granted by the government. Terms such as “operator”, “oil transport facility”, “pollutant”, “pollution control officer”, etc, are all defined in this law.

Air pollution
Ministerial Decision No. 118/04 on the Control of Air Pollution from Stationary Sources stipulates that owners must employ scientific methods specified by the ministry for the prevention of the emission of pollutants, and for their treatment and disposal. This law prohibits the emission of smoke over a specified density, and burning of organic or agricultural waste in the open. Approval must be obtained before installing a chimney, which must conform to the height specifications stipulated depending on its intended use.

Noise pollution
Ministerial Decision No. 79/94 on the Control of Noise Pollution in Public Places prescribes noise levels based on the classification of public places, and identifies the following as external sources of noise:
  • • Industrial plants and construction sites;
  • • Road traffic; and
  • • Airports and the operation of commercial and other aircrafts.
Variations in noise levels during the day on weekdays and holidays are measured in accordance with the prevailing international standards, taking into account wind velocity direction, temperature and humidity.

Ministerial Decision No. 80/94 on Noise Pollution Control in the Work Place prescribes noise limits in places of work. Machines, equipment and other noise generating installations are required to be checked for noise emission levels during operation and installation.

Health and Safety in Workplaces
Oman Labour Law (Royal Decree No. 35/04), 2004, has certain health, safety and environment provisions in place, including the provision by employers of first aid facilities to employees in the workplace, and provision of a generally hazard-free workplace. The employee must be apprised of potential hazards in their role, as well as mandatory safety measures. The employers must ensure that a generally hazard-free workplace is maintained, particularly ensuring that:
  • • Adequate safety and hygienic conditions prevail in both the workplace and in the places that a worker must visit by reason of his work;
  • • Safety checks are done on machinery and equipment in the workplace, ensuring they are in safe conditions; and
  • • The stipulated safety measures are followed by their employees.
Specific safety measures for women, juveniles in employment, and persons working in industries and mines are also listed in this law. Employers hiring employees for roles that involve working with lighting equipment, ventilation, air circulation, drinking water, toilet facilities, electricity, and the storage of dangerous materials have to abide by additional regulations in force for the employees safety and occupational health.

This article was first published on GMB Research. GMB Research commissions material from a large and growing network of leading local experts and international professional firms. Now covering 30+ countries from South East Europe, CIS and the Middle East as well as parts of North Africa and Asia, GMB Research is a rapidly evolving global resource.