Environmental protection in relation to the oil and gas sector
Following the announcement of the Final Investment Decision for Uganda’s flagship oil and gas projects, which are expected to deliver first oil in 2025, sections of the media have been unsettled with environmental and social concerns relating to the planned developments.
Some have suggested that by the time Uganda starts production, its oil and gas resources will have no value because the world is moving away from oil and gas to renewable energy. This gives the impression that Uganda’s oil journey is progressing in disregard of environmental and social protection and global “energy transition”.
There appears to be an agenda of “environmental fashion” driven by some environmental activists, which does not consider the uniqueness of developing countries such as Uganda, and Africa in general, and lacks a clear understanding of Uganda’s oil journey to date.
When commercial quantities of oil and gas resources were confirmed in Uganda in 2006, Government embarked on a process to ensure that the resources are utilized sustainably to create lasting value for Ugandans. This process dates as far back as 2008 when the National Oil and Gas Policy was put in place. In the subsequent years, the country’s laws were updated to address Environmental, Social and Governance issues associated with the petroleum industry. In addition, new laws to address key issues from the industry such as petroleum waste management, climate change, and oil spills have also been enacted.
It is reported that Several frameworks have been put in place to facilitate the monitoring and management of environmental and social aspects arising from oil and gas activities. These include a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the oil and gas activities in the Albertine Graben which was undertaken between 2010 and 2013 and approved by Cabinet in July 2015. At the time, Uganda was among the first countries in Africa to undertake an SEA for its oil and gas projects and it was the first time that such a comprehensive SEA was being undertaken for a project of any kind in Uganda.
The SEA brought out a holistic view of the key environment and social issues from oil and gas activities such as petroleum activities in protected and environmentally sensitive areas; co-existence with local communities; and management of discharges and emissions (including potential oil spills) from the petroleum industry. These key issues were integrated into the policies, plans and programs that were consequently developed to govern the industry.
From the onset, highly sensitive environments were mapped and avoided during the planning for oil and gas infrastructure; and detailed environmental and socio-economic baseline data was acquired to facilitate monitoring of impacts from oil and gas operations.
Government has put in place a robust policy, legal and institutional framework, together with a monitoring and compliance enforcement framework to ensure that oil and gas activities mutually co-exist with the environment and social wellbeing of communities in the areas where oil and gas activities are being undertaken, and the country as a whole.
This demonstrates why unlike some countries where petroleum activities have been associated with significant negative environmental and social impacts, in Uganda, this situation has been avoided. In the next article, I will address the question of greenhouse gas emissions, and explain how Uganda’s oil and gas industry can make a positive contribution towards the overall net reduction in the country’s emissions.