February 2023, Vol. 250, No. 2


East Africa Pipeline Project Kicks Up Climate Change Controversy

By Shem Oirere, P&GJ Africa Correspondent

(P&GJ) — Construction of the 896-mile (1,443-km) cross-border East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project continues to elicit objections, as well as strong arguments in its favor by governments of Uganda and Tanzania.

The main contentious issues are the possible adverse effects of the project might have climate change and alleged human rights violations.

The European Union parliament, in September 2022, passed a resolution that condemned increasing human rights abuses, especially in Uganda, as the East African country moves forward with the EACOP project, which is primarily owned by French multinational oil company TotalEnergies. The China National Offshore Oil Corporation, the Uganda National Oil Company and the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation are also investors.

An EACOP project brief shows the 24-inch, insulated pipeline starts at Kabaale, Hoima District, in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula, near Tanga Port in Tanzania, where 80% of the pipeline will be located. Along its route – the project includes six pumping stations, two in Uganda and four in Tanzani – before ending at a terminal and jetty in Tanga, where crude oil will be loaded onto tankers.

But the EU parliament has expressed concern that the extraction of oil in Uganda to feed the new pipeline “would generate up to 34 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year.”

The E.U. parliament also cited reports of environmental and climate experts pointing to critical flaws in the project’s environmental and social impact assessments, “considering it is inevitable that ‘EACOP oil spills will occur over the lifetime of the project.”

But in a terse statement by Uganda’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Development Ruth Nankabirwa, the E.U. parliament’s resolution was criticized for not being based on facts.

She said of oil projects currently underway in Uganda, both the extraction of crude oil and the EACOP “have been designed to technologically generate the lowest possible carbon footprint and all fall within the category of low emission.

“The carbon dioxide equivalent (C02e) emission per barrel for Uganda’s upstream and midstream projects is estimated to be 20-45 kg C02e that is well below the global average of 70-100 kg C02e,” said Nankabirwa.

Although Nankabirwa said Uganda will give an official response on the resolution by the E.U. parliament, once it is presented to the government of President Yoweri Museveni, she dismissed claims of human rights violations by government agencies and agents implementing the EACOP project.

Nankabirwa explained that Uganda opted for the Hoima-Tanga route via Tanzania for the new pipeline, expected to attract $4 billion across both Uganda and Tanzania, after eliminating the other options of Hoima- Lokichar-Lamu and Hoima-Mombasa, both through Kenya “based on best pipeline routing principles, including social, environmental, safety and economic considerations.”

Additionally, the Hoima-Tanga route was selected as the best route for Uganda after careful evaluation of its stringent laws on the environment and protected areas, which are to be strictly followed, she added.

“The EACOP project, which is the subject of the EU parliament resolution, has been designed to minimize irremediably harming the livelihoods of farmers, fisher folk and tourism business owners who depend upon the region’s rich natural resource,” Nankabirwa added.

Furthermore, she said a specific Human Rights Impact Assessment included “targeted measures put in place to address any potential adverse effects on land-based livelihoods as part of the project.”

As the E.U.’s parliament, there are mounting concerns about the human rights violations in Uganda and Tanzania linked to investments in fossil-fuel projects, including the wrongful imprisonment of human rights defenders and the arbitrary suspension of 54 non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The resolution further urges TotalEnergies “to take one year before launching the project to study the feasibility of an alternative route to better safeguard protected and sensitive ecosystems and the water resources of Uganda and Tanzania, limiting the vulnerability of the watersheds in the African Great Lakes region, which is a critical resource for the region, and to explore alternative projects based on renewable energies for better economic development.”

Civil society groups have lauded the passing of the resolution by the EU parliament and are calling for halting of the project and both Uganda and Tanzania explore other greener energy sources.

But according to TotalEnergies’ Chairman and CEO Patrick Pouyanné, the French major is “taking into the highest consideration the sensitive environmental context and social stakes of these onshore projects and our commitment is to implement these projects in an exemplary and fully transparent manner.”

Previously, some EACOP project backers including banks caved-in to pressure from civil society groups and withdrew their support both the construction of the pipeline.

Both the Uganda and Tanzania governments and the other EACOP project shareholders are not likely to abandon the pipeline construction altogether, but discussion is likely to extend to what the overall global demand for fossil fuels would have on crude extraction in Africa and the development of associated midstream and downstream infrastructure.

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