KAMPALA – Debate is raging in both regional and international fora on the impact of the proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) to the environment and people along its 1,443km journey from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania.
Activists argue that it will adversely affect the environment and displace people. They are against its construction so that over 6.5 barrels of proven oil reserves, 1.4bn of which are recoverable, remain a stranded asset. Mid last month, the European Parliament joined the fray and passed a resolution against the project implementation, citing violations of human rights and environmental concerns in Uganda and Tanzania.
Sitting in Strasbourg, France, it advised all European Union members, the international community, EACOP project promoters and stakeholders to exert maximum pressure on Ugandan and Tanzanian authorities for protection of the environment and end extractive activities in protected and sensitive ecosystems.
It is apparent that the EU resolution was misinformed by doses of diabolic exaggeration, redundant hearsay, deliberate half-truths, flagrant lies, concocted algorithms and/or excessive hypocrisy from self-conceited and rapacious civil society actors, pseudo-human rights defenders, and unethical but also unpatriotic citizen journalists and media practitioners.
As part of repairing the defiled image of the EACOP project, CNOOC Uganda Limited, subsidiary of China National Offshore Oil Corporation that is developing the Kingfisher oil field in the Albertine Graben, recently footed the entire bill for a field tour of a WhatsApp group with intellectual membership locally and in the diaspora.
Bunyoro Hard Talk (BHT) is a think tank of sorts with a hygiene of celebrated development economists, environmental lawyers, resource beneficiation actors, policy analysts, university dons, media practitioners, social and environmental activists, local investors, cultural institution members, opposition politicians and NRM regime apologists, among others.
It took about three weeks to gather over 60 of the 257 BHT members from here and abroad in Hoima Oil City for the one-day field tour. The areas visited included the Kingfisher Development Area and the US$309 million Hoima International Airport whose first phase site progress is 85% complete and the 3.5km runway 95% ready to handle the biggest cargo planes in the world.
Dr Henry Wamani, a nutrition epidemiologist and academic coordinator for the Master of Public Health Nutrition degree programme at Makerere University School of Public Health, Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom Minister for the Diaspora Philip Katahoire, a senior Forum for Democratic Change stalwart, Patrick Baguma and the NRM Chairperson for Masindi district, Kabakumba Masiko, are some of the notable members of the WhatsApp group that graced the trip.
Zakaliya Lubega, CNOOC’s head of corporate affairs conducted the tour, backed up by managers from the Petroleum Authority of Uganda and Uganda National Oil company. Briefing the WhatsApp group at Hoima Resort Hotel, Lubega said engagement with them was to enable appreciation of dynamics of the Kingfisher oil development project and acquaint them with the 18 environmental and social management plans already in place for the Kingfisher Development Area (KFDA).
The group should disseminate correct information about the upstream activities, value chain and ancillary infrastructure in the Albertine Graben. Over one million tonnes of equipment are expected for extractive operations in the Graben, according to Mathew Kyaligonza, CNOOC’s national content manager. KFDA covers about 344 sq. km, 4km under L. Albert but is accessed offshore. The deepest end of the lake is 6o metres.
Aboard two hired buses with packed lunch, the group hit the new tarmac road that shoots off westwards from Hoima Oil City. Winding through the lush greenery and cultivated fields in Hoima district, the road rushes to the escarpment. The terrain here slopes dangerously 400 metres down into a sprawling expanse of land terrace known as the Buhuka Flats that cover five villages in Buhuka Parish, Kyangwali sub county, Kikuube District.
Viewed from the cliff, the road looks like a gigantic python that snakes lazily down the escarpment. It is a beehive of civil works down there, with 31 oil wells to be drilled on four well pads. Twenty wells are for extraction of the oil from 4km underground while the other 11 will be for injection to introduce water into the oil reservoirs. The injected water is meant to increase pressure in the reservoirs and help to move the oil 4km upwards.
During the tour, BHT members demanded that CNOOC’s Resettlement Action Plan (RAP), local content and landsite upgrades to well-planned living environments for residents be comprehensively actualized in all the oil operations. The RAP was drawn through a consultative process and provides for prompt, fair and appropriate compensation to project affected persons (PAPs), according to Moses Oteng, CNOOC’s head of land acquisition.
The EU resolution asks authorities to adequately compensate people for lost property and land, protect local communities’ rights, including free, prior and informed consent, and provide redress to those affected by oil operations in past decades, among other demands.
Didas Muhumuza, the senior stakeholder management officer at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda said the EU have a right to talk about oil development activities in Uganda and Tanzania but governments have engaged them at diplomatic and country level to find solutions.
Compensation of PAPs now stands at 99% after CNOOC handed over 56 completed houses in July this year. Other beneficiaries opted for cash compensations under a thoroughly thought out scheme that involved interactions with district land boards, beneficiaries and the law.
By September, only six out of 788 beneficiaries under the Kingfisher Development Area were yet to receive their compensation. Of these, four were absentee land owners and the other two holding back. CNOOC is also vigorously pursuing livelihood restoration programmes, including youth vocational and financial literacy training, business support and livestock distribution.
As part of local content, CNOOC currently employs 2,716 Ugandans, accounting for 78% of its workforce. Local companies, including Excel Construction, National Enterprise Corporation, MSL Logistics, ICS/New Plan and Threeways Shipping Services have been awarded engineering, procurement, construction, waste management and logistics contracts.
Kyetume Kasanga is a member of Bunyoro Hard Talk, a WhatsApp group of intellectuals hailing from Bunyoro-Kitara in western Uganda.