The developing oil industry in Uganda
People have known that there is oil in Uganda, from as long ago as the 1930s. Early signs were the oil seeps, which rise up to the surface in several places in the country and which can readily be seen. However, despite early verification by the colonial government, oil production was only zoned for Western Africa, with Eastern Africa designated for agriculture. For many years it was thought that the oil was of poor quality and would not be economically viable to exploit but, given the rising prices of oil, the government of Uganda went ahead in the early 2000s and licensed the exploration of oil prospects in the country. Initial drilling was promising and expanded from the Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve to other sites around Lake Albert including Murchison Falls National Park. The findings show that there are commercially viable quantities of oil and gas in the Albertine Graben, and Uganda is moving ahead to develop its oil industry.
The wildlife law in Uganda allows exploration and extraction of oil under protected areas, provided that the impacts to the environment are minimized and where possible the natural habitat is restored after extraction.
WCS’s interventions regarding the oil industry in Uganda
Given the rapid nature in which the Ugandan government started to explore for oil in protected areas and the fact that the law did not specifically oppose it, any opposition to drilling for oil in the National Parks and reserves in this country was unlikely to be successful. In other parts of the world, WCS is actively opposing oil extraction in Protected Areas that we work in wherever the law supports this. However in Uganda we have taken the approach of working with Government and Civil Society to minimize impacts on the environment. Environmental impacts are many and can include noise and light pollution at drilling sites;loss of habitat to drill pads, roads, and infrastructure; pollution from oil spills and collection pits; increased human presence causing animals to move away or people getting involved in illegal activities; and increased traffic of vehicles with associated road kills and pollution. Any residual impacts will be offset by the oil companies in question. This follows the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP) approach (WCS is on the steering committee for BBOP). Todate we have focused our activities on:
- Monitoring the impacts of exploration on wildlife: we are carrying out research in Murchison Falls National Park and Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve and to date, have been able to show that both seismic activities and the drilling of oil wells on pads have significant negative impacts on large mammals, with many species moving up to 750-1000 metres from the site when drilling is taking place. However, once pads are established and drilling has finished, animals will return to within 250 metres of a pad. We are currently assessing the impacts of seismic explorations on elephants.
- Working with natural resources managers: WCS has a wealth of expertise on oil exploration and production in the context of environmental and social issues, which is not always readily available to others in the field. We are working to educate natural resources managers, government and civil society members about the potential impacts of exploration in Protected Areas and reserves and what can be done to minimize them. This approach not only provides education to other NGOs and community groups, but also to government institutions including the Uganda Wildlife Authority, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), National Forest Authority and Fisheries. In addition, we have also educated oil company staff in these methods. We produced a training DVD outlining the impacts and mitigation options. This engagement with stakeholders is ongoing and to date we have run 21 training courses and trained over 500 participants.
- Educating others: We developed a training course for oil practitioners at the Mukono Christian University. This course is training students to have the skills to assess and manage environmental and social impacts from the oil industry.
- Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs): An EIA is a procedure that ensures that the environmental implications of decisions are taken into account before any decisions are made about projects likely to have significant impacts on the environment. We had conducted periodic reviews of EIAs in the oil and gas sector in Uganda and observed that the quality of EIAs for oil development was poor. WCS therefore provided training to EIA practitioners in Uganda to improve the quality of assessments for each development site in Uganda.
- Developing new tools to guide conservation: WCS has also supported government initiatives in the development of tools to guide conservation of the environment in the process of oil and gas exploration and development. We have provided large quantities of high quality biodiversity data and technical support. Under NEMA leadership, we have worked with government institutions to develop tools for identifying and monitoring the impacts of oil and gas developments. This work started in 2008 with the development of the first version of the Sensitivity Atlas for the Albertine Graben, which identified critical areas and resources for conservation. Products generated so far include the first and second version of the Sensitivity Atlas for the Albertine Graben, the Albertine Graben Environment Monitoring Plan (AGEMP) and the manuals to guide implementation of the AGEMP. The manuals are about to be sent to print. The AGEMP committee, on which WCS is a member, is working with a team of experts to draw up activities for the implementation of the monitoring plan. The first activity will be to collect data to fill gaps in the baseline datasets. Thereafter, data will be collected at regular intervals and reports will be written every two years. Collected data will also be collated for use in preparation of updated versions of the sensitivity atlas. These products can be found in the resources section of the NEMA website at http://nema-ug.org/index.php. This is now being followed up with the development and implementation of an Oil Monitoring Plan.
- A WCS staff member was part of the team that developed the Strategic Environment Assessment for oil and gas activities in the Albertine Graben, which gave WCS an opportunity to directly inform this assessment. The report can be found at http://www.petroleum.go.ug/publications.php.
- Assessing trade-offs: WCS has been researching different land uses in the Lake Albert region and assessing trade-offs to enable the optimum use of the land for both conservation and development and to avoid conflict where possible. We are also undertaking analyses on oil pipeline routing to look at the costs and benefits of avoiding environmentally sensitive areas.
WCS has also conducted Biodiversity surveys over the Murchison falls Protected Area including (Murchison Falls National Park,Bugungu and Karuma Wildlife Reserves). The findings from the survey have revealed that the Murchison Falls Protected Area is more biodiverse than was previously thought and also shows the importance of Bugungu WR for conservation of endemic and threatened species. The Report on these biodiversity surveys can be found here.
WCS is currently conducting a study on behalf of Tullow Uganda Operations Pty. Ltd. (TUOP) under the Phase II Biodiversity study that includes; a land classification of oil and gas exploration areas 1, 2 and 3, a land cover change assessment and carrying out baseline biodiversity surveys in Exploration Block2. The overall aim of the Phase II Biodiversity study is to identify critical habitat as defined by the International Finance Corporation Performance Standard 6 (IFC-PS6), Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources.