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- Ivory Coast
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Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Protecting oil business not nature
The British government has offered support to a multi-billion pound plan to drill for oil in one of Africa’s oldest national parks. The UN has cautioned against drilling for oil in national parks due to the potential damage to ecosystems and the well-being of people living nearby.
The project, involving British company Tullow Oil; French firm Total and Chinese oil company CNOOC, could see dozens of wells drilled in Murchison Falls national park in Uganda. Tullow, together with its partners, would be investing $8 billion and drilling 500 wells in the three blocks, over the next 25 years. The park is home to one of the last remaining populations of the world’s most endangered species of giraffe, leading to warnings by experts that if the park is damaged the species could be at risk. Damage to the park has already occurred. The most intensive development lies within Exploration Area 1 (EA1), operated on behalf of the group by Total. Seventy percent of EA1 overlaps with the national park, including savannah habitat used by the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe, lions and elephants.
Small scale but irreparable damage has already occurred to the park as a result of a geological survey. An ecological compliance study found 283 instances of damage, 159 of which were found to be “non-restorable”. This included oil leakage; damage to trees and riverbanks and the destruction of termite mounds.
British trade officials have classed Tullow’s operations in the park as an “opportunity” worth over £1bn to UK businesses and have been keen to offer the firm financial backing. The government has held talks with Tullow about providing UK taxpayer-backed loans and insurance for its operations in the country.
Uganda is not the only example of British firms wishing to drill in national parks and other protected areas. British companies hold the rights to explore for oil in national parks and protected areas all over sub-Saharan Africa. Six British companies hold exploration licences covering at least 29 protected sites in eight countries.
This trend is at odds with the position of international institutions.
A UN Environment spokesperson warned that: “Highly protected areas are protected because of their ecological value or vulnerability. In common with all industrial activity, mineral activity in such areas has the potential to impact this value adversely and/or enhance vulnerability with serious consequences to both biodiversity and human well-being.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN has a strict “no-go” policy regarding mining activities in protected areas. Kathy MacKinnon, Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas said the organisation: “encourages responsible companies not to seek exploration and production concessions within protected areas.”
Irene Ssekyana of Kampala-based NGO Greenwatch Uganda, stated, “It is a very sensitive ecosystem. We’re talking about a globally important area of biodiversity that supports a vibrant tourism industry. The government says they are going to minimise the footprint of the activities, but it’s not very convincing… as long as issues of corruption and governance are not dealt with, I do not think that the ordinary Ugandan will benefit…”
Tullow has refused to rule out drilling in protected areas, although it said it does have a policy against drilling in world heritage sites. The firm holds oil licence blocks overlapping 15 protected areas in Africa, said: “We don’t rule out drilling in protected areas full stop.” According to Tullow 40% of Uganda’s oil lies beneath Murchison Falls national park.