The long-awaited decision on the environmental and social implications of the proposed East African crude oil pipeline is going to be made in the coming weeks.
Dr Tom Okurut, the executive director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), acknowledged that the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) of the East African crude oil pipeline has delayed, but pointed out that they are still on track.
“We are optimistic that within two weeks, we will have concluded the exercise and a certificate will be issued,” Okurut told New Vision last month.
According to the National Environmental Management Act 2019, ESIA should be passed within 180 days.
However, more than 400 days have passed without a decision on the ESIA for the East African crude oil pipeline.
Okurut acknowledged that there have been delays, but insisted the process is moving smoothly. He attributed the delays to the several public hearings that were held in the different districts in the country. The 10 districts which will host the pipeline, he said, were grouped into three categories and each group had a public hearing.
“From these public hearings, we received feedback from project-affected persons, local governments and we had to ask the oil companies to consider these issues. This also has caused the delay,” he said.
In addition, Okurut said, NEMA has been holding several consultations with stakeholders on how best the ESIA for the pipeline can be handled.
Regarding the effects of the East African crude oil pipeline on climate change, Okurut said it will not have huge impact since it will be buried underground.
Instead, he said, the biggest challenge will be on gaseous emissions from heavy trucks, refinery and other related industries. Even with these, he explained, NEMA is working on measures to mitigate any potential risks and that they will be implemented.
On the trans-boundary impacts of the East African crude oil pipeline, Okurut explained that whatever the country is working on in relation to oil and gas developments, they are consulting both the East African and Great Lakes regions.
“We are making several consultations with Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Nile Basin Initiative and EAC. There have been high-level meetings between governments,” Okurut said.
For purposes of cleaning the pipeline, NEMA has recommended that the oil companies use other water sources such as wetlands, rivers and lakes located in pipeline hosting districts.
“We have recommended that they get reservoirs in host districts. This will also be easy to monitor the wastes from the cleaning. We can’t draw water from Lake Albert alone, that would be disastrous,” he said.
Onesimus Mugyenyi, the deputy executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), said clearing the ESIA is one thing, but monitoring whether the conditions in ESIA are fulfilled is even a bigger task.
“NEMA has to do its work by monitoring and undertaking environmental audits,” he said. Mugyenyi added that this is sometimes undermined by corruption and poor governance.
He added: “NEMA has these audit reports but they do not share them with civil society, something that undermines sharing of information and accountability. The reports are part of public information but NEMA does not even respond when we write to them requesting for the audit reports.” Mugyenyi said there is a need for supervision of NEMA. “We have the Ministry of Water and Environment, the policy committee on environment under the Office of the Prime Minister and Parliament that should take up the supervisory role of NEMA and the sector.”
He said NEMA should benefit from third-party monitoring, where the media and civil society organisations are conscripted into the inspection teams.
This, Mugyenyi said, would help the citizens to get access to information and promote accountability. “Third-party monitoring is not yet supported by NEMA and entering an oil facility is not easy. You have to write government agencies and the oil companies, and it is at their discretion to allow you or not. We are not getting to the oil wells as often as we would wish,” he said.