CSOs accuse NEMA, oil companies of doing sham environmental impact public hearings
Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Civil society organisations that are tracking developments in Uganda’s fledgling oil and gas industry have asked the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to ensure transparency and accountability whenever citizens are appraising oil development projects.
The community-based organisations under their umbrella body, the Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas (CSCO) made the call on Oct.31 while appraising the recent public hearings on the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project’s environmental and social impact assessment report.
The EACOP, a US$3.55 billion project, is one of the major oil and gas infrastructure projects the Ugandan government alongside its partners including; the Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) and the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC), Total E&P Uganda B.V, Tullow Oil Uganda Operations Pty Ltd and CNOOC Uganda Ltd are looking at building before commercialization of the country’s 1.4bn barrels of oil starts around 2022.
The pipeline will be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world, at 1,443km, running from Kabaale in the mid-western district of Hoima to Tanga port in Tanzania. In Uganda, the pipeline covers 296Km and traverses 10 districts, 22 sub- counties, four town councils, 41 parishes and over 170 villages and hamlets.
It traverses southward along the western side of Lake Victoria, crosses the border into Tanzania and continues to the southern end of Lake Victoria and turns east continuing across the western arm of the East African Rift Valley before terminating in the northern area of Tanga Port on the Indian Ocean Coast.
The three hearings which took place in the districts of Kakumiro (Oct.21), Mubende (Oct.23) and Rakai (Oct.25) were organized by the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) in consultation with the country’s environmental regulatory agency.
On the final leg of the public hearings held in Rakai District in southern Uganda, Ernest Rubondo, the executive director of the petroleum authority noted that the purpose of the public hearings is to ensure that people from the ten districts where the pipeline is scheduled to pass verify the accuracy of the environmental and social impact assessment report.
Maxim Marchenko, the chief executive officer of Total East Africa Midstream (TEAM) BV, the interim company which is leading the process as the two governments and joint venture partners firm-up agreements told residents that environmental safety considerations had been made when choosing the EACOP route.
“The pipeline was routed through less populated areas and areas with less biodiversity and will be closely monitored using updated technology,” he said. Marchenko also shared with the people the anticipated positive impacts including thousands of jobs that will be created along the pipeline route.
Dr Tom Okurut, the Executive Director of NEMA also assured the over 6000 local residents who gathered over the three days that all feedback on the report will be reviewed to guide the decision on the approval of the report.
“NEMA’s mission is to promote sustainable development with balanced social, economic and environment well-being,” Okurut said.
Public views ignored
But civil society representatives some of whom attended the week-long public hearings accused the government agency, NEMA, of ignoring and skirting around critical issues that are supposed to be addressed during such public hearings.
Under Ugandan laws and regulations, public hearings are organized to enable citizens submit their views to guide the environmental regulatory agency as it makes a decision on whether to issue an environmental certificate of approval or not to the project developer.
“There are critical issues which we feel have not been addressed in these public hearings,” Onesmus Mugyenyi, the deputy executive director of the Advocates Coalition on Development and Environment, a Kampala-based public think tank which also hosts the Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas (CSCO) told The Independent.
Mugyenyi said: “The purpose of public hearings is to make sure that potential positive and negative impacts that are likely to arise are identified and where necessary mitigation measures are put in place to address negative impacts.”
“When these public hearings are done, citizens provide their input, orally or even in written submissions but it is very rare to get feedback on whether the issues they have raised are considered important or not.”
“When public hearings are done, a report is supposed to be produced but these reports are hardly shared,” Mugyenyi said in reference to earlier public hearings for the Kingfisher and Tilenga projects—the two upstream oil projects whose hearings took place towards the end of last year and in early 2018.