The Albertine Graben is an area considered as a biodiversity hot spot. Oil and gas exploration has been taking place in this region since 1998. A number of productive wells have been drilled and others continue to be investigated.
The oil exploration activities are expected to follow some stipulated procedures, includingEnvironmental and Social Impacts studies (ESIAS) that must identify short and long term impacts as well as identify mitigation measures to address the potential negative impacts. However, the effectiveness of such tools have been questioned.
Several agencies have had studies done on many of the ESIAS and others are yet to commence. NatureUganda conducted its study to highlight the potential effects of oil and gas exploration and production on biodiversity in general and the results were published in a report on the Effects of oil and Gas exploration and production on biodiversity a case of the Albertine Graben.
The exploration process chain has raised a lot of environmental concerns and is challenging the adequacy of existing regulatory regimes. Some risk concerns have included ground water contamination, air quality pollution, release of gases and oil drilling chemicals to the surface, mismanagement of waste, and the adverse health effects of pollution to humans and other life forms.
The guest speaker, Dr Robert Kityo, a lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, Makerere University indicated that whereas oil exploration is good for the country, a lot of biodiversity is likely to be lost and some of which risks becoming extinct. The habitat for some of these species is being further fragmented and therefore some animal species are displaced. The question of as to whether we can have oil production and still maintain the tourism in these areas is another debate in itself. However, he pointed out that there’s need to focus on how to sustainably manage the oil and gas resource without negatively affecting biodiversity. Full Presentation (PDF).
Reacting to this, Prof William Banage indicated that perhaps an EIA should not only be done in the oil region but rather the whole country since the whole country is going to be affected by this natural resource. He mentioned that the public needs more information that vividly shows that as oil exploration is going on, tourism and biodiversity management can also be achieved. He however mentioned that USA has resisted producing oil in some of their biodiversity rich areas because of the possible negative impacts.
A lot of pertinent questions were raised including;
- Has a thorough ESIAs been done in this region?
- Does the current legal framework appropriately cover all environmental issues?
- Is Uganda prepared enough to start the exploration activities?
- After oil and gas production, will the biodiversity be restored?
- What kind of mitigation measures should be put in place to ensure sustainable development?
Representing the ministry of Energy, Ms Gloria informed members that the government recognizes that oil and gas is not the only sector to support the economy. Tourism should not therefore be compromised. It’s a government mitigation measure such as sensitivity atlas, multi-institutional monitoring, EIAs and strategic management plans have been put in place.
Different speakers highlighted case studies and examples of animal displacement and the resultant concerns from the communities near the Protected Areas (PAs). These are however for big animals such as elephants which can easily be seen.
Dr Robert Kityo highlighted that the plight of lower life forms such as soil biodiversity is still a mystery and how their protection can be achieved.
The main recommendation was to sensitize those in “power” about the environment and if possible make 2016 presidential elections be decided based on environment. It was therefore suggested that NatureUganda builds more information base on oil and gas and biodiversity to further the campaign.
The Chairman of the session and Chairman Executive Committee NatureUganda, Mr Paul Mafabi in his closing remarks called for the need to disseminate information in order to reach a Win – Win situation.