As Uganda seeks to maximise proceeds from the oil industry, government is finalising plans to construct an oil refinery in Buseruka Sub-county, Hoima District and oil pipelines. These developments will take place in biodiversity sensitive areas thus, require a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) where people are actively involved in public hearings. According to the National Environment Act, Chapter 153, all projects under the third schedule are mandated to go through full EIA process.
An Environmental Impact Assessment is the process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse of the project. It is a tool used worldwide to guide decision makers in assessing the viability of a project on a given location.
The projected development of the oil pipeline is expected to crisscross several districts in the Albertine region connecting different oil wells to the Central Processing Facility (CPF). And from the CPF, crude oil will be pumped to the gathering manifold at Kabaale in Hoima by pipeline, at which point it will be supplied to both the oil refinery in Buseruka and crude oil export pipeline to Lamu Port in Kenya as required.
It should be noted that these pipelines will pass through the biodiversity rich Kabwoya and Bugungu wildlife reserves located at the base of the Albetine Rift Valley, and through Lake Albert where huge amount of water will be extracted. Currently, Lake Albert supports more than 90 per cent of local communities in form of transport, water and fish for domestic consumption while River Nile supports more than five countries. Moreover, in case of an oil spill, it will affect both the fish stocks and water supply while all countries in Northern Africa supported by River Nile will experience devastating impacts.
The wildlife in protected areas will be stressed when animal migration routes, breeding places and grazing patterns are interrupted and this may result in their extinction. While the communities within the pipeline corridor will be displaced from their ancestral settlements to pave way for construction, which will accelerate land wrangles and conflicts that are already rampant in the country.
Although the pipeline will be constructed underground, only shallow rooted light crops can be planted on top. Moreover, a number of surface installations such as pumps, valves and small generator stations will be installed. This will limit major economic activity in the area, including subsistence agriculture hence subjecting communities to hunger, as people’s ability to produce food will be constrained.
Carrying out detailed EIA will help policy makers address the concerns of the people and building consensus with them. It can also help device strategies to enable affected communities adapt to their new environment while an alternative pipeline route, especially from sensitive biodiversity areas can be explored. This will make designing practical mitigation measures feasible.
The National Environment Management Authority, as an autonomous institution mandated under Chapter 153 of the National Environment Act to manage, coordinate, monitor and supervise all activities in the field of the environment, must ensure that detailed EIA are carried out and mitigation measures implemented. Civil society organisations must also strengthen the capacity of the public to both demand and participate in the EIA process for Uganda to develop an environmentally sustainable oil pipeline in Uganda.
Mr Okulony is programmes and research coordinator environmentalist, Africa institute for energy governance.