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Environment

  • Elephants are not fleeing oil—but pressure will grow, says expert

    An elephant mother and calf by the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park. The animals can detect vibrations from their peers’ footfalls at distances of up to 20 miles, according to a 2001 study in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA). Which must make ‘seismic 3D’ testing rather jarring. (Photo: NY)

    An increase in reported cases of crop damage by elephants straying outside of Murchison Falls National Park is probably not due to oil exploration, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) country representative in Uganda, Dr. Alistair McNeilage.

    But, he stresses, wildlife management challenges will certainly grow as companies put in the infrastructure needed to extract the oil.

    “Lots of people have been saying that elephants are coming out of the park because they’ve been chased out by the oil,” McNeilage told Oil in Uganda.  “But if you look at the areas they’re coming from, it’s mainly on the north east side [of the park]. Those elephants don’t seem to be the same ones that are in the areas [in the west of the park] where the oil activities have been going on.” Read More

  • Image: Professor Jenik Radon

    “You have to go slow in order to go fast”

    Professor Jenik Radon

    Uganda should move carefully and without haste to develop its oil industry and wider economy.  Well crafted laws, with institutional checks and balances, are essential to govern the commercial aspects.  Revenues should be deposited overseas in hard currency accounts, with a portion saved for the future—because development cannot take place overnight, it needs to phased. Increased government spending should be tied to a comprehensive development plan.   Environmental, health and safety issues should be governed by regional laws that bind international oil companies to the same standards they would have to apply in their countries of incorporation—because otherwise they ‘won’t take it seriously.’

    So says Columbia University professor, scholar-activist and renowned extractives industries expert, Jenik Radon, who has been delivering a series of lectures at Makerere University.  Oil in Uganda caught up with him as he packed his bags to return to storm-buffeted New York City. Read More

  • Image: Buffalo in Murchison mud

    Wildlife–Uganda’s big tourist draw–begins to feel the strain of oil

    A buffalo cools off in the Murchison mud. Let’s hope that’s not drilling waste he’s wallowing in. (Photo: CM)

    More than a million tourists visited Uganda in 2011, bringing US$ 805 million in foreign exchange—the country’s biggest forex earner by a large margin. The Lonely Planet travel guide company has since named Uganda “top tourist destination for 2012.” But what has been the impact of the 16 oil exploration wells drilled inside Murchison Falls National Park, one of the main tourist attractions?  What is happening to the animals that the tourists flock to see?  Oil in Uganda visited Murchison to ask park staff and neighbouring communities, and also contacted tour operators who expressed concern for the future of their trade as the oil industry ramps up for production. Read More

  • Report identifies gaping holes in environmental capacity

    “Although the government of Uganda has made significant efforts to put in place fairly elaborate policy, legal and institutional mechanisms to address the environment[al] challenges of the gas and oil sector, the lack of capacity to implement these policies and enforce the corresponding laws has grossly undermined their effectiveness,” according to a recent Capacity Needs Assessment for the Environmental Pillar Institutions in Uganda conducted on behalf of the National Environment Management Authority by an independent consulting company with funding from the Norwegian goverment through their Oil for Development programme. Read More

  • Image: Greenwatch Community Training Manual

    Buliisa women look to save money—and their environment

    Greenwatch produced this community environmental monitoring guide with support from the Open Society Institute

    WANSEKO VILLAGE, BULIISA DISTRICT: Surrounded by a dozen women and men seated on the bare ground, Mary Nabanja goes through the financial records of her group in a large book, counting each penny of their group savings.

    Nabanja is the chairwoman of the Buliisa Women’s Environmental Protection and Savings Group, based in Wanseko village, some 450 kilometres from Kampala.

    Those who had not yet paid up bring their balances forward, and the meeting turns to the day’s main agenda—environmental protection.

    Richard Kajura, who facilitates the meeting, begins by going through the fauna and flora that their region is proud of—including parks, lakes and rivers and the climate itself. Read More

  • Image: Giraffe in Murchison Falls National Park

    Uganda’s Environmental Impact Assessment process under fire

    Murchison Falls National Park. Is this giraffe thinking about heading off to the DRC to avoid the oil rush? (Photo: Nick Young)

    Last week Dr. Tom Okurut, Director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), admitted in a public meeting that Uganda has failed to carry out a comprehensive environmental and social impact study in the Albertine Graben oil exploration and production area.  Oil exploration activities are subject to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) on a case by case basis—with each exploration well, for example, needing an EIA—but no one has yet joined up the dots.  And, as Frederick Womakuyu reports below, environmental experts say Uganda’s EIA process is marred by delays, shortage of technical expertise, lack of follow up and the structural incentive for EIA consultants to please the developers who hire them. Read More

  • Image: Giraffe in Murchison Falls National Park

    NEMA admits failing to assess the full impacts of oil

    Uganda has failed to carry out a comprehensive environmental and social impact study in the Albertine Graben  oil exploration and production area, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Director, Dr. Tom Okurut, admitted during a September 6 meeting in Kampala.

    “This study was supposed to be the first thing we did before any activities began. But we did not have the money to do it. Now that we have the money, we are doing it and it will be completed by December 2012,” Dr. Okurut told some 200 researchers, government staff and civil society representatives at a public meeting hosted by Nature Uganda at the Uganda Museum. Read More

  • Image: Ghana's FPSO

    Ghana: the environmental costs of oil

    The Kwame Nkrumah Floating Production, Storage and Offloading facility in Ghana’s offshore Jubilee Field, operated by Tullow and partners. The powerful lights attract fish into a ‘safety zone’ that local fishermen cannot enter, and some fishermen complain of health problems associated with excessive gas flaring. (Photo: Tom Fowler)

    Oil production worldwide has been synonymous with environmental damage, and Ghana is proving to be no exception. Oil in Uganda staff writer, Chris Musiime, reports from Takoradi, Ghana’s coastal ‘oil city,’ two hundred kilometres south west of Accra.

    Oil production 60 kilometres offshore has created problems for the environment and the locals, according to Solomon Kusi Ampofo, the Program Officer in charge of the Extractives Industry at Friends of the Nation (FON), an environmental NGO based in Takoradi.

    “Since the exploration and subsequent production of oil, nine whales have been washed ashore the coast in Jomoro and Ellembelle Districts,” he says.  Read More

  • Image: Buliisa lakeshore

    NGOs encourage Albertine communities to monitor environment

    Buliisa District: Local people in the oil producing areas should be front line monitors of environmental change, say green NGOs (Photo: Stephen Wandera)

    As Uganda moves closer to oil production, a number of civil society organizations are working with communities in the oil-rich areas to help them monitor and mitigate adverse impacts on their environment.

    One such group is the National Association for Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), whose Executive Director, Frank Muramazi, says that as early as 2008 the NGO carried out research in Buliisa, Hoima, Mubende and Kiryandongo districts and found that local citizens were largely ignorant of potential threats to water bodies and environmentally sensitive areas, including national parks and game reserves.

    “If these resources are not exploited sustainably, the local people will eventually lose out,” says Muramazi. Read More

  • Douglas Oluoch points to where Heritage buried oil waste

    Heritage Oil malpractice reveals waste management flaws

    Douglas Oluoch points to where Heritage buried oil drilling wastes on his farm (Photo: NY)

    A farmer who says that Heritage Oil dumped dozens of truckloads of waste in a pit dug on his land, a few kilometres north of Murchison Falls National Park, is still waiting for the National Environmental Management Authority  (NEMA) to give him the results of tests they conducted in 2009, and for the waste to be removed for permanent disposal elsewhere.

    Douglas Oluoch, 43, relates that he first came into contact with Heritage in his capacity as a local councillor (LC II) in Purongo sub-county of what is now Nwoya District.  In 2008, he says, a Heritage official, who he can identify only as “Albert,” offered to pay him for accepting waste from exploration wells dug within the National Park.

    Oluoch told Oil in Uganda that he received 750,000 shillings (USD 300) for accepting the waste, adding that “They said it was not harmful and would act as a fertiliser.” Read More