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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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East African Governments Clash With Environmentalists Over New Oil Pipeline

  • The controversial East African Crude Oil Pipeline being built in Uganda and Tanzania is facing harsh criticism from environmentalists.
  • East African governments are hopeful about how the project could help lift their economies.
  • The Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber (AEC), NJ Ayuk, explains “Ugandans and Tanzanians should not have to pay the price for western, developed nations.” 

East Africa seems to be split in favour of and against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) being built in Uganda and Tanzania. Environmentalists are concerned about the damage the pipeline and the development of an oil and gas industry could cause to the countries. But the governments of the East African states are hopeful about how the industry could support their economies, as oil majors look to Africa to develop new, low-carbon oil operations.  In 2015, French oil major Total (now TotalEnergies) and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the two governments to develop a 1,443km-long pipeline for the transportation of oil from Uganda to Tanzania’s Port of Tanga for export. 

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni strongly supports the expansion of the country’s oil industry, seeing the resource as something that should be developed nationally to support the economy while the global demand is high. The $10 billion development includes the construction of EACOP, the Kingfisher Lake Albert project and Tilenga, the Murchison Falls project. One of the most controversial areas of the project is the planned construction of 10 well pads, a feeder pipeline, and a refinery in and around the Murchison Falls national park, with the potential to be the first oil project within a protected area in East Africa

Uganda expects to have an output of 230,000 bpd of oil by 2025. The construction of the pipeline will make it easier to transport crude from Uganda to the non-oil-producing state of Tanzania, and for it to be exported to other countries. Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo are now looking to Uganda to see how it cultivates its oil sector to learn from in the development own energy industries. 

Several political leaders in the region see the development of their oil and gas industries as a means toimprove energy security and support their national economies, to reduce poverty. In addition, after years of resource exploitation from foreign powers, many governments recognise the fleeting potential of oil exploration and production at the national level. Oil majors around the globe are now looking to expand their low-carbon oil operations into new regions that will support the longevity of their production, and it is Africa’s time to shine and profit. 

Some suggest that the benefits of the construction of EACOP could be far-reaching, supporting the aim to bring an end to energy poverty in Africa by 2030, and encouraging job creation, local community empowerment, and wider socio-economic growth. The development of the two countries’ oil industries is expected to encourage a 60 percent increase in foreign direct investment and encourage development in other sectors. 

The Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber (AEC), NJ Ayuk, explains “Ugandans and Tanzanians should not have to pay the price for western, developed nations. It makes no sense to oppose the construction of the pipeline. If EACOP fails, there will be no guarantee of employment, with a lot of the population remaining energy poor for years to come, and investment directed towards East African exploration will dry up. Africa does not deserve this. Africa deserves the rights to develop its resources and that includes the EACOP.” Targeting environmentalists, he also said, “Stop disrupting Africa's development and let's use the EACOP and every other oil and gas project on the continent to drive Africa into a new era of energy and economic success.”

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But not everyone agrees with this point of view. There are far-reaching environmental concerns around the development of not only EACOP but Uganda’s oil industry in general. NGOs worry that EACOP could lead to the displacement of thousands, destroy farmland, and devastate ecosystems across the region. In addition, there are fears of water contamination in the Lake Victoria Basin, which delivers water to over 40 million people. Further, the pipeline is expected to lead to the emissions of 34 million tonnes of CO2 annually, a seven-fold increase on Uganda’s current emissions.  

The StopEacop movement, based in Nairobi, and supported by 260 civil society organizations, aims to raise awareness around the potential negative effects of the pipeline development. The group has successfully reached out to many potential funders of the project to dissuade them from investing in EACOP, including HSBC, BNP Paribas and Swiss Re and, most recently, Deutsche Bank. Environmentalists have attacked net-zero pledges made by many potential investors, pointing out that the development of EACOP would be contradictory to their climate promises and could therefore damage their reputation. 

While politicians and other public figures support the development of EACOP, to support economic development across the East African region, thousands of environmentalists across the region and the world oppose the development due to climate concerns. But with ongoing worries around energy security, is pressure from NGOs and famous activists enough to stop the pipeline from going ahead?

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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