By Simon Mwebaze
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.
Uganda will extract its first drop of oil through the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) by 2025. It is estimated that the oil prospects of Uganda will produce 1.4 billion barrels. This tumultuous task is possible through partnerships with Tanzania’s government and private international companies like Total Energies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation. They are instrumental in the controversial EACOP.
The EACOP project is 1,440km long and the longest heated pipeline in the world. It has faced controversy, especially from affected communities, NGOs, human rights groups and activists, and most recently, the EU parliament. Most of the protests around the EACOP project revolve around environmental concerns, unfair compensation, loss of property and land, displacement of landowners, and human rights violations. The EU resolution was focused on human rights violations including wrongful imprisonment, arbitrary suspension of NGOs, and random prison sentences. In their resolution, they called for oil extraction and production preparation activities around Lake Albert to stop.
While these activities are atrocious, does the EU have the moral judgment to call out Uganda and call for a stop to its oil production plans based on environmental and social reasons? Let us have a look at the EU’s track record when it comes to similar projects.
Several EU countries have banned fracking besides a couple. The UK just reversed its fracking ban on September 22, 2022. While this may seem commendable, on closer observance, you notice a few issues. The EU is one of the largest importers of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US. EU’s increased importation of LNG alongside China since 2016 is so significant that, by 2022, the US is touted to be the largest exporter of LNG in the world.
But why is this a concern? In the US, the process used to extract LNG is fracking. Fracking is the process by which oil and gas are extracted from shale rock. It works by drilling into the earth and directing high-pressure water, sand, and chemicals at rock layers to release the gas. Fracking gets its name from how the rocks are fractured to extract gas.
A lot more than gas extraction happens under and above the surface. One of the recorded challenges as a result of fracking include tremors. In England, 120 tremors were recorded at a Cuadrilla site in Blackpool. In 2016, an EPA report revealed that fracking was harming drinking water supplies. The water contamination is due to the wastewater from fracking which contains highly combustible greenhouse gases like methane and other radioactive material.
In 2019, a UK report revealed concerning effects of fracking. It was discovered that fracking increased airborne radioactivity within a 20-kilometer radius of fracking sites, harmed infant’s health along with pregnant women and children, and pulverized the Earth’s bedrock releasing uranium. Besides water contamination and negative health effects, fracking has more negative effects including toxic spills, habitat displacement, and soil contamination.
Soil is affected in the same way as water. Wastewater from fracking has high salinity which affects the fertility of soil negatively. With less fertility, the soil is less able to support plant life and vegetation. Since fracking operations take up a lot of space for machinery, housing, piping, and other materials, some fracking operations displace people and animals. While people can easily move to other areas, animals lose their habitats for good due to fracking.
Despite the EU being a primary beneficiary of US fracking, there is little to no condemnation of the US. Why not?
Maybe because, despite all its dangers, fracking has provided some value across the world. First, it’s a clear replacement for petroleum and coal. Natural gas is 100% natural with arguably less impact on the environment than most common fossil fuels. Secondly, it has helped protect the US’ energy sovereignty, preventing situations like in the EU with Russia reducing the supply of natural gas. Finally, fracking is a source of economic development through export income, employment opportunities, and business opportunities for suppliers of materials used in the process.
Similarly, in the case of Uganda, oil production presents opportunities for the country to head toward energy sovereignty and economic development. The country has already seen significant infrastructure, economic development, and capacity building as a result of the oil prospects as it prepares for its first oil production. It is anticipated that about $10 billion will be invested in the sector before the first oil production in 2025. This will mainly facilitate the pipeline, refinery, and infrastructure.
Most recently, the looming energy crisis has forced the UK, a former EU member, to relax its moratorium on fracking. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng further asked for a review of the science around fracking from the British Geological Survey. Shouldn’t the EU be more concerned about its neighbor?
While some of the issues regarding the EACOP are valid, these challenges are not unique to the East African region. The EU has no moral high ground to demand all activities should stop. Rather, they should collaborate with East African governments toward finding and executing amicable solutions to the issues.
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