Photo source: National Review - Photo: 2021

Ugandan Environmentalists Jailed for Opposing 900 Mile Oil Pipeline

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — Mere hours before the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference, a major environmental confab, drawing world leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden, Uganda has arrested six activists who are challenging a $3.5 billion oil pipeline project that stretches 900 miles through two East African nations, shipping crude from fields in western Uganda to international markets.

Hard to imagine worse timing.

The activists have been detained without charge at a police station outside Kampala, according to the global watchdogs Amie de la Terre France (Friends of the Earth) and Survie (Survival). The two groups have called for the immediate release of the activists.

The arrests fit a pattern of harassment against critics of the multi-billion-dollar oil venture, the groups say.

The UN conference—a major climate summit—is being held in Glasgow, Scotland, and runs from October 31 to November 12. It is known as COP26 and brings together 120 world leaders including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the UK, Her Majesty the Queen of the UK, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, U.S. President Joe Biden, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland. Some 25,000 delegates are expected to attend.

Special Climate Envoy John Kerry will lead the effort at the international conference.

According to the environmentalists, the pipeline will threaten ecologically sensitive areas along its route, including wildlife reserves and water catchment areas for Lake Victoria. The project could pose immense threats to local communities, water supplies, and biodiversity in Uganda, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya.

The oil industry routinely claims that pipelines are the safest, cleanest way to transport oil and gas from one place to the next. They claim that leaks and spills are “uncommon”. The problem is their own pipelines have resulted in widespread harm to people and the surrounding environment.

Pipelines leak, spill, rupture, and explode all the time. We’ve seen countless images of crude oil spills on the news, which are particularly devastating to surrounding wildlife. Oil sticks to everything, killing wildlife that wander through it or ingest it, poisoning the ground and polluting local water supplies.

Worst of all, though, crude oil can linger in the environment for years after it’s been effectively “cleaned up,” according to the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.

Someone may tell Uganda.

So far, the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments have signed agreements with French oil major Total and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to build the pipeline from Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean.

First oil exports are anticipated in 2025.

The pipeline’s critics say 770 square miles of protected areas will be impacted and 12,000 families displaced from their land.

If completed, the $3.5 billion pipeline will transport heavy crude from more than 130 wells inside Uganda’s largest national park, which is home to threatened African elephants and lions, a formidable population of Nile crocodiles, and more than 400 bird species. Conservationists say it won’t just threaten wildlife but that it flies in the face of efforts to curb global warming by locking in investment in a dirty fuel.

“We have been working in the oil-rich subregion of Uganda. It’s not a desert, like many oil mining spaces, but rather a high biodiversity area,” Atuheire Brian at the African Initiative on Food Security & Environment (AIFE) told the website Mongabay in an email. “We can’t afford to have agreements signed in secrecy, and that’s the case for Uganda.”

“Total is taking into the highest consideration the sensitive environmental context and social stakes of these onshore projects,” Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné said.

But a coalition of NGOs opposing the pipeline says the pipeline planning process has been opaque throughout, disregarding judicial and parliamentary procedures.

Meanwhile, in Senegal, hundreds of women are marching through Dakar to highlight climate change.

Their objective is to promote their participation in the climate debate and encourage people to consider their specific climate concerns as Senegalese and African women at next month’s climate summit in Glasgow. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 October 2021]

Photo credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation

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