The $20bn (£14.8bn)East African crude oil pipeline (EACOP) forecasted to deliver 1.7bn barrels of crude oil starting in 2024 or 2025 will transport oil 900 miles (1,450km) from the shores of Lake Albert on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo through Tanzania to the port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean. In April, Uganda and Tanzania signed agreements with the French oil and gas company Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).
Total is planning to drill more than 400 oil wells at its Tilenga project, which is inside the ecologically fragile national park. CNOOC will develop its Kingfisher project with 31 wells, about 90 miles to the south. Pipelines from the two sites will merge at Kasenyi, where oil will be processed and separated from other fluids. Then it will be pumped across the Albertine Rift valley to begin its journey to a port in Tanzania. Along the way, the pipeline will cross the basin of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, which is an essential watershed for more than 40 million people in the region and feeds into the Nile. The pipeline will be buried up to two metres underground, will be 61cm wide and heated to 50C, so that the crude oil does not solidify, according to the project managers. Above ground, a corridor 30 metres wide would be cleared of all structures, trees and shrubland.
The pipeline will pass through the habitats of at-risk species. It could jeopardise community water sources and pollute the air, and its construction will be intrusive and noisy. In Tanzania, local government authorities have admitted that environmental disturbance is inevitable. The pipeline project comes as world leaders are aiming to divest from fossil fuels. The pipeline will contribute to the climate crisis, locking in more oil use and planet-heating emissions for decades to come. The pipeline project is in direct conflict with the recommendation by the International Energy Agency that there must be no new fossil fuel development if global heating is to be limited to 1.5C. The #StopEACOP campaigners estimate that the pipeline would lead to more than 34m tonnes of CO each year, exacerbating the global climate emergency. That is equivalent to the emissions from nearly 7m passenger vehicles driven for a year.
Activists and hundreds of local and international civil society organisations in April launched a campaign called #StopEACOP, condemning the oil extraction and pipeline for its threats to endangered species in the park and other conservation areas. They also asked international banks and other financial institutions to stop financing the projects.
Local activists have condemned the government’s failure to address the delayed compensation. Under Uganda’s guidelines, people affected by the pipeline should be resettled or compensated with cash based on what they will have to spend to replace their land.
Local campaigners fighting the project have been arrested and detained in recent months, and they say they are the target of intentional intimidation by the government. Ugandan authorities claim the group is violating registration laws for non-governmental organisations.
A 2020 report by Oxfam that surveyed communities along the path of the pipeline found they feared it could “burst and explode, causing property damage, injuries and major disruption of the aquatic life of [Lake Victoria]”. “A spill would not only affect Uganda but rather become a transboundary issue affecting all the east African states,” the report noted.
The environmental and social impact assessment reports also failed to include mitigation agreements in case of oil spills, and had no detailed plan on combating climate change, said Brian Nahamya, a programme associate at Global Rights Alert, an advocacy group based in Kampala. He said the National Environment Management Authority, the government agency responsible for approving the project, was “pursuing its mandate to impress oil companies and the central government without putting the interests of the country at the centre for sustainable exploitation of oil”.
Several local non-governmental organisations launched a lawsuit against the project, alleging that it poses imminent dangers to the climate, environment, biodiversity and human rights. Nahamya said the compensation delays violate property ownership rights and “go against best international standards and practices for land acquisition and resettlement … There are a number of environmental and human rights issues that remain unresolved.” The oil project has now plunged communities into land conflicts, as wealthy individuals have shown up to claim properties that people have been living on for decades.
Onesmus Mugyenyi, deputy executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, based in Kampala, argued that some of the money going into the new oil projects should go to clean energy. According to a June 2020 report solar power accounts for 4% of Uganda’s energy production, just 1% of the country’s 2040 goals.