TotalEnergies plans to invest in Uganda’s biodiversity conservation

by Business Times correspondent
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TotalEnergies will financially contribute towards increasing the number of Murchison Falls park rangers and support a project to reintroduce black rhinoceros in Uganda.

The French resource company is developing the Tilenga oilfields in western Uganda and is a shareholder in the proposed $4 billion East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) which will ferry the crude to Tanga port in Tanzania.

Nicolas Terraz, President, Exploration & Production, at TotalEnergies, was this week giving an update in regards to being a responsible operator which recognizes the environmental and social issues associated with the two projects.

He said, “These plans will be defined in close collaboration with the authorities and stakeholders responsible for nature conservation in Uganda and Tanzania. TotalEnergies will contribute to a 50% increase in the number of Murchison Falls park rangers and will support a program, conducted in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, to reintroduce the black rhinoceros in Uganda. TotalEnergies is also working closely with International Union for Conservation of Nature experts to integrate the best practices for the protection of chimpanzees, particularly by promoting the conservation of forest habitats.”

According to TotalEnergies, the route of the EACOP has been designed to minimize its environmental impact. Careful attention was also paid to watercourses, and horizontal drilling will be used for the most sensitive cases. 

In November 2023, Human Rights Watch reported that anti-fossil fuel activists and environmental defenders in Uganda face repeated harassment, including arbitrary arrests, for protesting the planned oil pipeline.

EACOP consists of the construction of a buried 1,443 kilometre pipeline between the town of Kabaale in Uganda and the port of Tanga in Tanzania, and a storage terminal and loading jetty in Tanga. 

The oil pipeline includes six pumping stations, powered by solar plants in Tanzania, and a heat tracing system. The physical characteristics of the oil from Tilenga mean that it needs to be kept at a temperature of 50°C for transportation. The route of the pipeline was designed to avoid areas of environmental interest as much as possible, and generally crosses farming areas.

The 22-page HRW report, Working On Oil is Forbidden’: Crackdown Against Environmental Defenders in Uganda spotlights Uganda government for restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly related to oil development. 

As of now, Uganda has oil reserves of 6.5 billion barrels in the Albertine Graben Region of which about 1.5 billion barrels is commercially recoverable. Production is scheduled to start in 2025. The region features fresh lakes and is home to Uganda’s most abundant wildlife.

Terraz said, “These projects are located in a particularly sensitive natural environment, especially in terms of biodiversity. Strict measures have been taken to avoid, mitigate and offset their impact.” 

He said, “TotalEnergies has decided to restrict the footprint of the Tilenga project in Uganda’s Murchison Falls Park, a protected area and a showcase for African biodiversity. Development will be limited to an area that accounts for less than one percent of park land, and thanks to strict preventive and reduction measures built into the design of the project, the Tilenga facilities inside the Park will cover less than 0.03% of the surface area during the operating phase.”

The Tilenga project is operated by TotalEnergies (56.6%), in partnership with China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) Uganda Limited and the Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC).

It includes the development of six fields and the drilling of around 400 wells from 31 locations. Production will be delivered through buried pipelines to a treatment plant built in Kasenyi, for the separation and treatment of the fluids (oil, water, gas. All of the water produced will be re-injected into the fields and the gas will be used to produce the energy needed for the treatment process. Surplus electricity will be exported to the pipeline and the Ugandan grid.

One of the fields developed is located inside Murchison Falls Park. The others are located outside the Park, south of the Victoria Nile in sparsely populated rural areas and activities that are essentially agricultural.

He said the completion of the Tilenga and EACOP projects will require the implementation of a land acquisition program covering some 6,400 hectares. For Tilenga and EACOP, this program means relocating 775 primary residences, and will affect a total of 18,800 stakeholders, landowners and land users. 

Terraz said all these actions are being carried out in compliance with International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group) performance standards. The program involves a complete survey of the land and crops and monetary compensation and/or compensation in kind. Each family whose primary residence is being relocated may choose between a new home and monetary compensation. An accessible, transparent and fair complaints-handling system will be running throughout the process.

“Right from the design phase of these projects, special attention has been paid to information, consultation and consensus-building with all stakeholders. Over 70,000 people were consulted for the ESIAs. Discussions have been initiated with several NGOs, laying the foundation for a sustainable collaboration process aimed at capitalizing on their expertise and driving continuous improvement,” he said.

However HRW insists people are being muzzled. Felix Horne, a senior environment researcher at HRW said at the publication of their 2023 report, “This crackdown has created a chilling environment that stifles free expression about one of the most controversial fossil fuel projects in the world.”

However Terraz said, “As in all the Company’s operations, TotalEnergies attaches the utmost importance to compliance with human rights in the implementation of these projects. Everybody has the right to express themselves. TotalEnergies does not use or tolerate the use by others of aggression or physical or legal threats against people who are exercising their right to freedom of expression or their right to peaceful assembly or protest.”

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