East African Oil Pipeline ‘Doing Little, If Anything, to Change People’s Material Conditions’
There are concerns that the project will tie Uganda, Tanzania and East African countries to fossil fuels at the expense of a robust, diverse and lasting green economies
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As delegates were arriving last week for the 10th East African Petroleum Conference and Exhibition, hosted by Uganda in Kampala, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was reeling from the devastating impact of climate change-induced floods and landslides.
As the conference began, there were reports of 400 confirmed deaths, 5,500 missing people and thousands more left homeless. Just days before, floods in Rwanda killed at least 130 people and destroyed a reported 5,000 homes, 17 roads, 26 bridges and one hospital. The Uganda Red Cross also reported eight deaths, five from just one family, in a mountainous area of Uganda bordering Rwanda.
Commenting on the flooding during a visit to neighbouring Burundi, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was “yet another illustration of accelerating climate change and its disastrous impact on countries that have done nothing to contribute to global warming”.
But despite warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change – of the increased risk of heavy rainfall and flooding across most of the African continent as result of CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, is resolute that the East African Community (EAC) will not be put off from exploiting its oil and gas resources.
In a speech at the conference, read out by Uganda’s Vice President Jessica Alupo, President Museveni said that although east Africa as a region recognises that the threats posed by climate change are real and is aware of the global push for a transition away from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy, he believed “that if the undeveloped countries want to, they can develop and commercialize technologies that will make fossil fuels good for use”.
He added that any measures aimed at protecting the environment must conform to the principle of “equity and common, but differentiated, responsibilities and respective capabilities in light of the different national circumstances as enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement” and highlighted the dilemma that “the push for transition is coming at a time when the east African region has established significant petroleum projects that can greatly contribute to the economies of the region”.
350Africa.org is a grassroots movement that campaigns to end fossil fuels in favour of community-led renewable energy. Speaking to EnvoNews Nigeria after the conference, its regional campaigner, Charity Migwi, said: “Africa has significant renewable energy potential, which if developed, can position the continent to lead the global green energy transition.
“Instead of seemingly doubling-down on fossil fuels, we urge East African leaders to prioritise the adoption of safe and sustainable renewable energy.”
A key element of the plans to exploit EAC’s oil resources is the controversial East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) – a joint venture between the Uganda National Oil Company, the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and TotalEnergies.
At a cost of $3.5 billion, when construction is finished, the 1,443 km-long pipeline will run from Hoima in Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania transporting up to 216,000 barrels of oil per day.
The oil will be extracted from two Ugandan oilfields located in sub-basin of Lake Albert where 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil was discovered in 2006. Kingfisher oilfield on the shore of Lake Albert will be operated by CNOOC whilst the Tilenga Oilfield, located inside the boundary of Murchison Falls National Park, will be run by TotalEnergies.
A report last year by the US-based Climate Accountability Institute calculated that EACOP would produce 379m tonnes of carbon over its 25-year lifespan with the NGO’s co-founder and director, Nick Heade, describing the project as a “climate bomb”.
Zaki Mamdoo, StopEACOP Campaign Coordinator at 350africa.org, is concerned that the project will tie Uganda, Tanzania and east African countries to a fossil fuel economy at the expense of a robust, diverse and lasting green economy.
He told Byline Times that oil transported through the pipeline is destined to service the energy needs of countries abroad while the revenue generated would service the profit margins of multinational corporations. “Thus, actually doing little, if anything, to meaningfully change the material conditions of ordinary people in the project’s host countries despite the fact that they are ones who will shoulder the entirety of the social and environmental costs.”
There are also concerns about the impact of the pipeline on wildlife and sensitive habitats along its route including, according to report by WWF, 510km of African elephant habitat and nearly 200km² of protected wildlife conservation areas.
A spokesperson for Rainforest Rescue said “we are living in a climate emergency, and many people in Africa are already suffering the consequences. Opening new oil blocks is a terrible idea anywhere, and even more so in an area like Murchison Falls National Park”.
Rainforest Rescue – an environmental organization dedicated to the protection of rainforest peoples and their habitats – believes the construction of new access infrastructure associated with the Tilenga Oilfield has already disturbed the paths of elephants causing human-wildlife conflicts to intensify.
It also claims that local people are already complaining about air pollution and flooding and there are fears that an oil spill would not be contained to the local area but could pollute Lake Albert and the Nile, affecting thousands of people.
The African Conservation Foundation, an environmental organisation focusing on the conservation of Africa’s wildlife and ecosystems, is also opposed to the construction and operation of the EACOP due to its potential negative impact on the environment.
“The pipeline’s proposed path would traverse several protected areas, including the Murchison Falls National Park and the Serengeti National Park, which house endangered plant and animal species and provide crucial ecosystem services to both local communities within and outside of the parks,” Arend de Haas, its director of conservation, told Byline Times.
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“These sensitive ecosystems and wildlife habitats are already vulnerable due to climate change and cannot withstand further damage caused by the pipeline’s construction and operation.”
The organisation is also concerned about the impact that the pipeline could have on local communities, particularly indigenous peoples, who may be displaced from their homes and land as a result of the pipeline’s construction. Arend de Haas believes that the rights and interests of these communities should be respected and protected.
A spokesperson for TotalEnergies said that all of EACOP’s partners are “committed to implementing these projects in an exemplary manner, taking into consideration the environmental and biodiversity stakes, as well as the rights of the concerned communities, in accordance with the stringent performance standards of the International Finance Corporation”.
The French energy company emphasised that the route of the pipeline was designed to minimise its environmental impact and avoid sensitive areas as much as possible.
It said that approximately “5,000 people would be rehoused in the vicinity and in better conditions” on acquired land of 5,600 hectares and that “in the vast majority of cases” the 100,000 people who own farm or animal grazing land on the pipeline route or on Tilenga infrastructures would be able to use it after the works are complete.
“In Uganda and Tanzania, TotalEnergies has developed an oil exploitation project with one of the company’s lowest CO2 emission levels, at 13kg CO2 per barrel,” it added.
China National Offshore Oil Corporation did not respond to a request for comment.