At a time when the world is working to combat climate change and its effects, tracks are being laid for the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), the world’s largest heated pipeline at 1,445 kilometers, from Hoima, Uganda to Tanga, Tanzania. The shareholders of the project are the Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC), the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC), the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), Total from France and Tullow Oil from the United Kingdom.
Edwin Mumbere is the coordinator for the Centre for Citizens Conserving (CECIC), a community-based advocacy nonprofit whose mission is to influence environmental policies to the benefit of society’s vulnerable across Uganda. Their EACOP campaign is currently advocating for the land and environmental rights of the communities affected by the pipeline.
What are the environmental impacts of the EACOP?
Firstly, the pipeline will impact eco-sensitive areas like Lake Albert, Murchison Falls, the Wambaya Forests, the Nile River and Lake Victoria. These areas are home to animal and plant species that have been listed as threatened and endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Secondly, the pipeline will be heated and so it will require power in order for the crude oil to easily traverse the length of the pipeline. Currently, Uganda’s electricity supply is not enough to service both the nation’s and the project’s needs so construction of a dam at the Murchison Falls, a popular tourist attraction in Uganda has become necessary. Not only is there an environmental and social cost to the construction of the pipeline, there is an added environmental and social cost with the construction of the dam. Rather than doubly impacting sensitive ecosystems with the pipeline and the dam, considerations for solar energy are preferable.
What are the social impacts of the EACOP?
The pipeline will cut across hundreds of acres of farm land not only displacing thousands of people but also potentially signaling towards food shortages. Additionally, food security for fishing communities around Lake Albert and Lake Victoria is expected to decrease as a result of industrial wastes and population. Already, Lake Albert, a trans boundary lake, is experiencing border tensions between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo over fishing rights. The EACOP is only likely to further increase tension and create conflict.
The major social impact of the EACOP currently unfolding has to do with discrepancies around compensation. The rates at which landowners are being compensated for loss of their livelihood varies greatly. Moreover, many landowners and farmers are being displaced before economic compensation. There are also gender issues including rising cases of domestic violence as women do not have secure land rights. Often, it is the case that women are not even factored into calculations for compensation.
Given the environmental and social impacts outlined, how is this project able to move forward?
All shareholders are from countries that are signatories to the Paris Agreement so this project flies in the face of the convention on climate change.
The National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA), which is charged with the coordinating, monitoring, and supervising environmental management of Uganda, is under pressure from government factions to issue clearance certificates to the project. Furthermore, shifts in policy have made it difficult for non-project related parties to speak at public hearings. With general elections coming up in February 2021, there is a lack of political will on the part of inclined government officials and the opposition to publicly oppose the project. So, the environmental and social burden is falls squarely on the communities but they have little political and economic agency.
We have seen the disastrous effects of oil spills in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, Nigeria, are there measures in place to ensure the safety of the pipeline?
Contingency plans and policies have been drawn up however the real issue is how to implement them and confidence is low considering how compensation is currently being handled.
What are the next steps and how can people help?
Currently, we are working on putting pressure on local governments for uniform compensation rates. We are looking to partner with the Church to sensitize the community to their land and environmental rights. We are also working on putting pressure on national government to honor their commitment to the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emission. This pipeline will increase Uganda’s carbon emissions by 34.3 million metric tons per year. We are looking to partner with individuals and organizations who can not only donate financial resources but also expertise in research and advocacy.