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Pipeline politics pits jobs and profits against homes and land

This is part 1 of a 7-part series

“Some of these people are insufferable, so shallow and egocentric, but they think they know everything,” Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni said on 27 September during the Uganda-International Oil and Gas Summit at Kampala.

Two weeks earlier, the European Parliament had passed a resolution condemning the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) led by French oil company Total Energies, who holds the largest stake in the project with 62% of the ownership.

According to the European body, the world’s largest heated oil pipeline endangers the rights of local communities and portends a setback in the fight against climate change. But for President Museveni, the resolution was a personal attack to his long-awaited personal goal of becoming an oil exporter.

“I encourage the oil companies to continue the refinery and oil pipeline. I hope our partners will join us firmly,” he said, aiming to shut down the criticism.

Delayed project

The project, known popularly by its acronym EACOP, will transport oil from Hoima District in Uganda to a storage facility in the coastal city of Tanga in Tanzania throughout 1,443km.

The pipeline will carry 216,000 barrels of crude oil per day at maximum capacity and will be buried underground and insulated to keep the temperature of the oil at 50ºc or warmer to ease the flow.

Some of these people are insufferable, so shallow and egocentric, but they think they know everything.

Aboveground, there will be two station pumps, the future Kabaale Industrial Park and other constructions such as new tarmac roads, electrical substations and valves to reduce or stop the oil passing.

Oil was initially discovered in Uganda’s Albertine region on the shores of Lake Albert in 2006. After almost 10 years of planning on how to export it and after an initial failed agreement with Kenya, Uganda chose Tanzania as its route with the support of Total.

Construction started in 2017 and completion was scheduled at first for 2022, but the Covid-19 lockdown and difficulties to secure funding have delayed the completion date to 2025.

As of today, not even a kilometre of the pipeline has been built nor a drop of oil barrel has been extracted, with the first rigs arriving in October.

High human and climate cost to pay

Of the total distance, 296km of the pipeline will pass through Uganda and the remaining 1,147 cross Tanzania. One of the major criticisms has been the human rights abuses committed in Uganda whilst acquiring land.

The delayed compensations, the displacement of communities and the increase in the price of land has meant locals have suffered a  loss of land, affecting access to education and health care.

“The process started in 2012. After the initial assessments, they stopped us from growing crops that would take up to eight months to grow. We couldn’t earn money from agriculture and our children had to drop out of school,” stated one of the residents and members of the Oil Refinery Residents Association in Kabaale.

But the critiques have also pointed towards the environmental impact of the project. The entire oil project will generate 34 million metric tonnes (MT) of carbon dioxide emissions, twice the current amount combined of Tanzania and Uganda.

The Tilenga oil field owned by Total Energies will bore 32 oil pads within the Murchison Conservation Area that covers one of the biggest parks and richest in biodiversity in Uganda.

We couldn’t earn money from agriculture and our children had to drop out of school.”

According to organisations such as the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment and Inclusive Development International, 2.000 square kilometres of protected wildlife habitats will suffer from the construction of the pipeline and roads, including endangered species such as the chimpanzees in Bugoma Forest and African Elephants in the Murchison Falls National Park.

A chance to shine

However, despite the environmental impact, local governments see the project as critical for the development of their countries. Both the Ugandan National Oil Company and the Tanzania Petroleum National Corporation have a 15% stake each. The project intends to bring $4bn in foreign investment, according to official data.

In Uganda alone, the pipeline is expected to create 2,400 direct jobs and around 1,000 indirect. Rahma Nantongo is the chair of the Makerere University Petroleum and Geology Society. The 23 year-old student sees EACOP as a job opportunity: “I see myself making bigger decisions for the oil industry in the future, but for that, I must get involved now”.

Nevertheless, high expectations regarding employment opportunities must be closely followed up on. Almost 90% of people living in communities affected by EACOP in Uganda are farmers, herders, or fishers.

With low educational levels and a limited knowledge of the oil sector, their chances for work placement are fading away. “The project is bringing jobs to young people that are not educated,” adds the resident of the Oil Refinery Association.

This article was developed with the support of Journalismfund.eu

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