BULIISA, UGANDA – Uganda and Tanzania in September signed an agreement to build what they say will be the world’s longest crude oil pipeline, a $3.5 billion project that will run from southwestern Uganda to Dar es Salaam. Ugandan authorities say those affected will be compensated, but rights groups worry that few details have been announced. Environmental activists warn the oil project, run by French Company Total and Chinese company CNOOC, also puts Uganda’s nature reserves and ecosystems at risk.
Ugandan farmer Margaret Kagole says she is still fighting to get compensation for land taken a decade ago for oil exploration.
Kagole was given a payout that she says was not enough, so she is still fighting for an additional $16,000.
Meanwhile, some of her remaining land may be taken to build the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, the largest in the region, stretching to Tanzania.
“Even this one, I am not sure that maybe they will come and pay, now two years,” said Kagole. “So, for us as rural people, what do we do?”
The oil project will be run by French company Total and Chinese company CNOOC.
It is not yet clear when construction of the nearly 1,500-kilometer (900 mile) line will begin, but it is expected to take up to three years to finish and to displace thousands of people.
Few details have been released on the payout, and Ugandan activists worry the oil project could damage Lake Albert and nature reserves.
Rashid Bunya is a researcher with the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, an organization looking into human rights and environmental issues in the oil pipeline affected areas.
“How are these wells going to impact on the fishing? Because there are spillovers that happen,” said Bunya. “And when you look at the environmental social impact assessment, it shows you the depth where they pick the oil from, and then they bring it close to the lake. So, our point was that, why do you have to put a well close to the lake? Can’t you use another method?”
The Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) says all locals will be compensated for acquired land before the project begins, at rates determined by land authorities.
PAU public relations officer Gloria Sebikari maintains that land has been carefully selected for the refinery and pipeline to ensure nature is protected.
“When they are acquiring land, either for a pipeline or the central processing facility, there’s provision for a buffer zone,” said Sebikari. “So, if we’ve acquired let’s say a 30-meter corridor, the pipeline is not going to fill all that corridor. That corridor that’s being acquired provides for the pipeline itself and then a buffer on each and every side.”
Ugandans here are becoming used to seeing their homes swallowed by seasonal flooding and lakeside erosion.
Some, like Kagole, have added oil development to the list of threats to their land.