KAMPALA – Mr. David Ochanda, the Biodiversity Coordinator for Total E&P Uganda is winner of the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) 2020 Outstanding Young Professional Award (OYPA) presented to him on Monday, July 27.
The award recognises Mr. Ochanda’s endeavours in raising awareness of biodiversity and ecological standards when exploring and producing oil and gas in highly sensitive areas.
QN: Congratulations upon this massive career trophy. What is your feeling torwads winning this highly competitive accolade?
Thank you. I am extremely delighted to win this award. The award affirms the empowerment, motivation and trust I have always received from my seniors and colleagues while executing my duties. This achievement and honor today is a great inspiration and gives me more strength to challenge myself and perform even better. I must say this would not have been possible without the support from my team whom I am grateful to and very proud of. This award is not only a great achievement for my personal professional career but also for TOTAL Group, Uganda and Africa at large.
QN: The award recognizes endeavours in raising awareness of biodiversity and ecological standards when exploring and producing oil and gas in highly sensitive areas. What have been your specific achievements especially in Uganda’s exploration landscape?
My submission was a demonstration of the leadership and innovation we have taken through the journey of dealing with challenges of operating in a highly sensitive environment, the Murchison Falls National Park, and the best practices we are putting in place to mitigate adverse impacts of our activities including building capacity both internally and externally with stakeholders. I highlighted some of the innovations we have done like using high tech cameras as replacement of humans in planes while doing aerial wildlife surveys, and also programmes we pioneered like putting satellite collars on some of the species that had never been collared before in MFNP to monitor their movements. It couldn’t go without mentioning the importance of the baseline data we have collected over several years working in MFNP, and our commitment to leaving the Park in a better state through our evolving Net gain programme. Of great value, I also talked about the synergy so far developed between most of the civil society organizations and Total E&P Uganda that will be very important for the successful development of Uganda’s oil and gas resources.
QN: What have been the key challenges to biodiversity as Uganda builds the extractives industry and what can you recommend as best industry standards?
At Total E&P Uganda, we have accepted the challenge of working in the Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP), a recovering and sensitive ecosystem, on the basis of pro-actively creating a project that demonstrates how oil can be extracted while respecting the outstanding biodiversity of the area as well as the communities who depend on the natural resources. Consequently, Total has made a commitment to applying international best practices through the implementation of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards on Environment and Social Sustainability through collaborative partnerships with independent national and international experts, as well as local and national authorities.
We have developed a dedicated biodiversity programme which involves carrying out a range of monitoring studies. All these studies are being carried out in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and other national and international research institutions and consultancies such as Wildlife Conservation Society, Giraffe Conservation Foundation, experts from Makerere University, National Fisheries Resources Research Institution (NaFIRRI), and Nature Uganda amongst others. It is the first time Murchison Falls National Park as a whole has been this comprehensively studied.
For example; In August 2013, we launched an initiative with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to put satellite collars onto elephants to understand their movement behaviour in relation to the oil & gas exploration activities particularly seismic data acquisition and drilling activities and also collect baseline data in anticipation of the future oil and gas works including development wells.
In addition to elephants Total E&P Uganda is also monitoring Giraffes, through Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and also several other species namely; Hartebeests, Kobs, Lions, Reedbuck and Hyenas with Biodiversity Solutions Uganda.
The data obtained is being used by Total E&P Uganda, partners and all other stakeholders to enhance the knowledge and understanding of the area in order improve management of these areas as well as develop the biodiversity and ecosystem services management plans.
In addition, we also conducted systematic wild-life population census using aerial surveys of medium to large mammals such as giraffes, elephants, hartebeests and buffaloes to understand their population and distribution in Murchison Falls National Park. Other studies have included biodiversity surveys of the Murchison falls-Albert Delta Ramsar site done by Nature Uganda, vegetation mapping of the entire Murchison Falls Protected Area, and critical habitat assessment amongst others.
All these baseline data help us to map out sensitive sites and seasons of the animals which we do avoid while implementing the mitigation hierarchy in alignment with the IFC standards. Data will continue to be collected as part of the monitoring program during execution of the Tilenga Project.
All the above baseline data collected over the years fed into the Tilenga Project Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) to ensure that all the potential impacts of the project are identified and appropriate mitigation measures developed. The Tilenga project ESIA was subsequently approved in April 2019.
QN: Winning this award at the prime of your career is quite commendable. Where do you see yourself focusing your influence in the sector in the next 10 years?
This award has given me more strength to work even harder. So let’s simply say I will continue with the hard work and dedication to see that we develop Tilenga Project in an environmentally and socially responsible manner and ensure sustainability for the future generations. This would be a very remarkable model project to demonstrate successful coexistence of industrial development, conservation, tourism, and enhanced community livelihoods and I would be proud to be a part of it.
QN: Briefly talk to us about yourself — career and family?
I am an ecologist by training. I hold a BSc in Wildlife Health and Management and an MSc in Environment and Natural Resources both from Makerere University Kampala, Uganda. I also possess a Post graduate diploma in Project Planning and Management amongst several other certificates from professional short training courses.
As Biodiversity co-ordinator at Total E&P Uganda, I lead a team of biodiversity specialists and our overall goal is to ensure development of the upcoming Tilenga Project in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner. In the long-term we aim at achieving an overall improvement to biodiversity and ecosystem services in areas affected by Total E&P Uganda activities in the Albertine Rift.
We undertake several activities to achieve our goal and these include but not limited to; conducting studies to understand baseline conditions of our area of operation, designing conservation actions that should help us leave MFNP landscape in a better ecological state than we found it, designing appropriate measures to mitigate potential Tilenga Project impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services, conducting stakeholder engagements and consultations, and awareness campaigns with the aim of raising awareness about TEPU Biodiversity programme.
QN: Your last word?
The Oil and Gas industry is very dynamic and volatile, therefore needs a flexible and patient mindset, but it’s also very demanding hence the need for a focused and committed personality to meet tight deadlines. It’s a practical industry and therefore one of the best places you will put in use your professional skills. If you have these attributes then you will surely enjoy your time in the industry