Kampala, 8 December 2022:- Just Finance International today called on Chinese state oil company CNOOC and French multinational oil and gas company TotalEnergies to strongly uphold their commitments to protect the environment and biodiversity in Uganda’s Lake Albert region.
An undercover field investigation in one of the most sensitive areas of the world by Just Finance International and its partner organization found that that while protecting the environment and biodiversity was claimed to be a key element in the planning of the East African crude oil pipeline (EACOP), the contractors, CNOOC and TotalEnergies are harming biodiversity and livelihoods in the area.
“While governments are gathered at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal (COP15), its business as usual in Uganda, oil pipeline construction is threatening the biodiversity of the Lake Albert region”, said Nils Resare, Senior researcher at Just Finance International. “All construction work on EACOP should halt until CNOOC and TotalEnergies can demonstrate that they are following, to the letter, their commitments to the environment and biodiversity of Uganda’s Lake Albert region.”
EACOP will cross seven forest reserves, two game reserves, two game-controlled areas and one open area that supports wildlife management. In total, the pipeline will cover 295 km of conserved and protected lands and will impact nearly 2,000 square kilometers of protected wildlife habitats.
Just Finance International observed and documented heavy machinery constructing roads and preparing the pipeline inside the Murchison Falls National Park, and how fishing communities and their livestock in Buhuka flats were trapped next to the construction site of an oil well near the Kingfisher oil field, which is operated by CNOOC. The Kingfisher field is next to the shore in the southern part of Lake Albert. From this field, a feeder pipeline will transport oil to the main pipeline. During peak production, the Kingfisher project is expected to produce 40,000 barrels of oil per day that will be transported by EACOP pipeline.
The NGOs found that the Kingfisher field is restricted for all visitors except residents of the fishing community and the staff constructing the oil pads. Just Finance International’s partners visited the area undercover and found that the oil pad was only 30 meters from a fishing community. This is contrary to the social and environmental safety standards for the project. Despite a growing dissatisfaction with their new neighbor, Just Finance International was told that the community members have been prevented by CNOOC from expressing their concerns on the project.
“Many of the EACOP construction areas are restricted for visitors and independent researchers. The sites must be accessible so the actual impact on the environment and the communities can be analyzed,” said Nils Resare.
According to the EACOP website, the project is committed to meeting the requirements of the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources. This requirement should be met through critical habitat assessments.
“EACOP has been sold as an eco-friendly investment that respects the environment, biodiversity and human rights”, said Resare. “This was explicitly stated in the project’s planning documents and both the implementing companies, Total and CNOOC, claim to have high environmental standards. However, what we have witnessed along the pipeline route shows that CNOOC and TotalEnergies appear to care little for the environment, biodiversity or the impact of pollution on people’s health and livelihoods”.
Biodiversity is regarded as a key component of Chinas Belt and Road Project, which EACOP and Kingfisher projects are part of. President Xi Jinping said: “The Belt and Road aims to promote green development. We may launch green infrastructure projects, make green investments, and provide green financing to protect the Earth which we all call home.”
Yet, the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the EACOP points out several negative impacts on biodiversity and the environment. These include, “loss, degradation or fragmentation of species’ habitat, population changes, disturbance or barrier effects”. This will add pressure to the natural environment, including animals such as the Rothchild’s giraffe, Lelwel hartebeest, elephant, lion, spotted hyena, Bohor reedbuck, Uganda kob and Denham’s bustard, according to the assessment.
Despite the highlighted negative impacts in the ESIA, it has been criticized for several weaknesses by civil society organizations claiming that the negative impact will be even bigger.
“We appreciate the developers’ vision and promise to protect and promote social and environmental aspects in the development of the EACOP oil project. However, the current EACOP ESIA report does not provide evidence that the project will not destroy the environment and livelihoods in Uganda”, the organizations write.
Read story: Environment protection on hold as work to extract oil starts in Uganda
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Just Finance works to ensure that the public budget spent globally on development and infrastructure finance is contributing to the advancement of sustainability for populations and the environment.