The public hearing on the proposed established of an oil Early Production System (EPS) in Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve, which took place on 29th July concluded with Ugandans calling for promotion of environment-friendly practices that will ensure that conservation continues even as oil production begins within one of Uganda’s popular protected areas.
The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) organized the hearing after the public expressed major concerns with regard to the Environmental Impact Assessment, which was submitted by Tullow Oil – the company behind the plans to establish the EPS in the reserve.
Ugandans called for equitable sharing of the oil revenue, and expressed keen interest in seeing key constituents such as wildlife conservation and the local communities of Bunyoro benefit significantly from this revenue.
Sam Mwandha, the Director for Conservation at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said a Conservation Fund should be established that will be used to fund monitoring and evaluation activities as well as help in implementing mitigation measures that Tullow Oil may fail to implement.
Tullow Oil opted to construct the EPS in Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve after confirming that the other alternative location would push the costs of production too high.
The EIA report proposed that the Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve be degazetted in order to accommodate the oil production activities, but this was flatly rejected.
We want the public to know that oil production will last a limited time, but the biodiversity in the reserve will remain and we should protect it,” Mwandha said at the hearing, further observing that, “There will be big potential for pollution yet the EIA report was short on recommendations as far as mitigation will go.”
He also mentioned that monitoring remains a big challenge, and it will require all the relevant government agencies to get together to establish strong monitoring mechanisms.
The Deputy Prime Minister of the Bunyoro Government said that government should ensure that there is a concrete plan for opening up new areas where displaced wildlife will find refuge, as well as plans for resettling the people who will get displaced.
Former Member of Parliament for Rubaga North, and a renown environmental crusader, Ken Lukyamuzi observed that the planned EPS (oil refinery) would greatly impact on the ecosystem in the wildlife reserve and all efforts should be made to protect its beauty.
Speaking on behalf of the Honorary Wildlife Officers, Dr. Arthur Mugisha said as much thought should be put into the ecological costs of oil production as the economic costs, and concerted efforts should e made to preserve the ecology of the wildlife reserve.
The Member of Parliament for Bugaya County, Hon.Patrick Baguma said it is necessary to do a cost-benefit analysis before a license for establishing an oil refinery in a wildlife reserve is granted. “What shall we lose in terms of the flora and fauna (biodiversity) compared to oil?” he asked rhetorically.
However, the 2nd Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Service, Hon Henry Kajura who also hails from Bunyoro, told participants in the public hearing that Ugandans should now concentrate on working out recommendations on how to get the oil flowing without negatively impacting the wildlife reserve.
“Let us move forward; we need this resource for development and for our infrastructure such as schools, roads and communications,” he implored.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Kabagambe Kaliisa said that whether at central or local government level, oil revenue will be used to create wealth and put infrastructure in place, create knowledge, educate the people and develop the country.
The Minister of State for Water and Environment, Hon Jessica Eriyo however counseled that the issues discussed at the public hearing should be taken seriously and integrated into program activities by all the concerned parties.
“Oil and gas will meet our country’s needs for a long time, but the risks to biodiversity are also likely to increase. The challenge is to have a strong voice for biodiversity conservation and reduce air and water pollution,” Hon. Eriyo said.
She observed that there is need to harness the opportunities for conservation, and pointed out that when the oil is finished we still need to have our ecosystems in good shape.
“Biodiversity conservation is an integral component of sustainable development,” she observed, adding, “I therefore urge Tullow Oil and other organizations to ensure that environmental considerations are in all their activities including improvement of community livelihoods.”
By the time the public hearing ended after nearly 10 hours of discussing and debating, consensus was reached to the effect that oil exploration and production should not be at the expense of biodiversity conservation.
Tullow Oil acknowledged that the loss of plants and displacement of animals will be inevitable during construction of the EPS but promised to keep the area affected as small as possible.
They also promised that after construction of the EPS they would ensure that all the areas around the EPS are returned to the same state as before.