Environmental dangers of planned oil pipeline

Uganda is currently in high gear to produce and export its own oil and expects to export its first consignment of oil by the close of 2018. The country boasts a number of prospective oil wells around Lake Albert in four major exploration areas (EAs). These include the Murchison Falls NP exploration area, the Buliisa exploration area, the Kaiso Tonya Oil block and the Kingfisher oil block.

Confirmed oil deposits also exist further south in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Lake Edward George basins and across the border through the Virunga National Park, a renowned world heritage site hosting the remaining populations of the endangered great apes — the mountain gorillas.

As of this month, the Kingfisher oil project is ready to take off. It is estimated to host an average of 635 million barrels of crude of which 196 million barrels are estimated to be recoverable oil. The development of the Kingfisher oil production area led by Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) that holds the only valid production licence will involve putting in place a water station, central processing facility, tanks farm, truck loading and power generation facilities, among others.

The first phase will involve setting up of a central processing facility with a capacity of 20,000 barrels of oil per day that will be expanded to a 40,000 barrels a day in the second phase and in future to 60,000 and or more in line with the domestic and foreign market demand.

As recently reported, the plan underway is to export oil through an 85km oil pipeline to the green field refinery to be located in Kabaale-Buseruka sub-county in Hoima district. Also planned in an oil pipeline from Buliisa to the Green field refinery in Hoima. The only pass way out of the Buliisa or Kingfisher oil pipelines heading to the Green Field refinery is through the biodiversity rich Kabwoya and Bugungu wildlife reserve that are located at the base of the Rift Valley. These main pipelines will have a series of smaller feeder pipelines connecting from the different oil wells distributed in Murchison, Kabwoya, Bugungu wildlife areas. From the Green Field refinery in Hoima, a 250km to Jinja is being planned from where a long pipeline to the East African coast is planned through Kenya at Lakichari to Lamu or Mombasa.

In whatever case, the pipeline offsets will risk the Rift Valley wildlife and Lake Albert waters through future oil spills and wild fires in cases of any rupture arising from the hot crude in the pipes or sabotage, In case of such occurrences, there will be acceleration of animal-human conflicts once the wildlife is threatened in their natural habitats. The pipelines through wildlife areas will definitely stress the animals and affect animal migration routes, breeding places and grazing patterns. The pipelines from Hoima to Jinja and then to the coast will, at one point, pass through community land and accelerate land wrangles and tribal conflicts, especially if the compensation and resettlement issues are not handled carefully.

At policy level, there could be issues of policy conflict since it is on record that laws on environment, including the International Ramser Conventions, etc do not permit largescale mineral extraction or the disruption of nature in protected areas. There is thus a need for careful planning, comprehensive EIA assessments and consensus building among different stake holders before the actual development work is rolled out. Otherwise, development not centred on the needs and concerns of local communities and environmental safety is no development at all.