By Catherine Twongyeirwe
On Monday 9th March 2020, NEMA awarded CNOOC a Certificate with conditions approving the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report for the Kingfisher Development Project.
Kingfisher project is located in Kikuube and Hoima districts in Uganda which shares the border with the DRC. In addition, oil for the project will be drilled from under Lake Albert. Any damage to the lake arising from the vertical and horizontal drilling or any oil spills from the project poses an environmental risk.
The Kingfisher project is located in sensitive ecosystems such as Lake Albert, Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, Kamansinig River and other. The project area also has communities that entirely depend on fishing for food, income and other critical aspects.
The Kingfisher oil project is comprised of the listed infrastructural components, a Central Processing Facility (CPF), heated feeder pipelines, 46.2km feeder pipeline from the CPF to the refinery in Hoima, flowlines from well pads to the CPF, four well pads, water abstraction station on Lake Albert, access roads, workers’ camps, underground electricity cable, a drilling storage yard, An airfield among others.
Despite the gaps in the Kingfisher ESIA report and violation of laws during the two Kingfisher public hearing that took place in June 2019 in Kikuube and Hoima, NEMA issued a certificate of approval with conditions for the Kingfisher project.
The certificate with conditions is insufficient to conserve the environment and livelihoods because during the public hearings organized for the Kingfisher project, laws were violated and there were gaps in the Kingfisher ESIA report. Among the laws violated during the public hearings included:
- Failure by the presiding officer to organise more than two public hearings was contrary to guideline 6 of the EIA public hearing guidelines. The guideline empowers the presiding officer to hold a hearing in various locations in the country depending on the location, nature of the project and the cost involved in holding the public hearing. Therefore the public hearings were insufficient having big and unmanageable numbers at the public hearings.
- Guideline 15 of the 1999 EIA public hearing guidelines which gives a right to interested parties to use ten minutes to make their presentations were violated. While the guideline provides that the presiding officer may extend or limit the duration of a presentation, limiting community members who are most affected by a project was against the principles of natural justice. The presiding officer asked community members who made informal presentations were asked to ask only one question. This showed that the hearings were not organised to listen to the views of the people but were a formality meant to mislead the public that there was public participation in the project.
- Further, the public hearings were against Guideline 4(4) that requires that all public hearings be conducted in a structured manner so as to permit a fair and just examination of all information and matters relevant for the hearing. Organising two public hearings for two districts which were participated in by over 12,000 people meant that NEMA and PAU failed to ensure that a fair presentation of views by the interested stakeholders was undertaken. Indeed, while the developer used over one hour to make a presentation, communities were given little time. Therefore they was no fairness during the hearings.
- Article 41 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution was violated which provides the public with the right to access information in the hands of the state while the study covered both environmental and social impacts of the project, the developer did not attach copies of the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) reports in the ESIA submitted to NEMA. In turn, NEMA did not publically share a full ESIA report including the project RAPs for public comments. It is unfortunate that the developer did not submit the RAPs alongside the ESIA for public scrutiny. The None Technical Summary (NTS) of the Kingfisher oil project ESIA report states that the mitigations for the social and economic impacts of the land acquisitions under the Kingfisher project and resettlement activities shall be in the RAPs. However, these RAPs were not part of the Kingfisher ESIA report. NEMA is therefore called on the public to present comments on both the social and environmental impacts of the Kingfisher oil project in absence of the said RAPs. This means the developer presented an incomplete ESIA to NEMA and therefore comments were based on incomplete reports.
In addition to the violation of laws, there were gaps in the ESIA report for the Kingfisher project, among them were failure to involve transboundary communities: The Kingfisher oil project will impact Lake Albert, a shared lake between Uganda and DRC. River Nile also crosses through Lake Albert on its way to Sudan, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. This means that the project will affect transboundary communities. However, the communities were not involved in the public hearings.
While the Kingfisher project’s ESIA report noted that oil will be transported in heated pipelines from the oil wells to the CPF and to the oil refinery, it failed to provide information on the risks of heated pipelines on flora and fauna and how those risks can be avoided or mitigated. The impacts of heated pipelines on some sensitive ecosystems such as Bugoma forest which harbors chimpanzees could pose a serious threat to their sustainability.
In a nutshell, issuing a certificate with conditions to CNOOC will not conserve the environment and livelihood basing on the gaps in the ESIA report and violation of laws during the public hearings as discussed above. The certificate should be cancelled until the gaps are addressed.