“What will happen to our grazing land if the oil pipeline is constructed?” Will my cows be allowed to graze near the oil wells? Will you shoot them down? I think that will be a mistake because there will be no peace if such a move is taken,” said Mr Wilson Rwebikoomi, the vice chairman of Buseruka village.
He said he owns hundreds of cattle but his biggest worry as far oil exploration is concerned is the grazing land since big chunks of land is being targeted by oil companies.
This was during a pre-public hearing meeting at Buseruka Sub-county headquarters on Thursday last week.
A public hearing was being organised the next day at Kabaale Public Primary School, Hoima District, where residents were expected to air out their views to government officials, local leaders, managers of oil companies and environmentalists from the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) among other experts.
A similar event had taken place the previous day at Rwemisanga Primary School in the newly-created Kikuube District.
Thousands of people turned up at the two events and the issues that were presented focused on the likely degradation of the environment, displacement, failure by local people to get jobs with the oli companies, failure to get markets for their produce, among others.
These are some of the pending issues that are yet to be addressed by government and oil companies ahead of oil production.
The government has planned commercialisation of the discovered oil and gas resources in the Albertine Graben by developing a refinery, use of the associated gas from crude oil to generate electricity and export the crude oil to international markets by pipeline via Tanzania.
Such a plan is massive and a lot of disruption on the environment, forests, human settlements among other physical features.
This is the reason why the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) Uganda Ltd, a Chinese firm licensed to operate the Kingfisher oil field in Kikuube District, submitted its Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report to government in its bid to obtain approval to kick off commercial oil developments in the area.
The oil company contracted Golder Associates and Eco and partners to conduct the ESIA study on the Kingfisher oil development project, a pre-condition before National Environment Management Authority’s (Nema) approval for the project’s commencement.
A public hearing is a forum in which all relevant stakeholders and developers are brought together to express their opinions and offer suggestion on a proposed project to influence the decision-making process during the review of the ESIA report.
The Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) organised the hearings.
During a hearing at Rwemisanga, Mr Bruhan Kyakuhaire, a special assistant in charge of culture in Bunyoro kingdom asked oil companies to ensure that their activities do not disrupt the kingdom’s heritage.
“We want oil companies to respect our environment. Our lakes, rivers, forests, rocks, stones and other places where we perform various rituals because that’s what makes Bunyoro,” Mr Kyakuhaire said.
The CNOOC Uganda senior public relations supervisor, Ms Aminah Bukenya, said the ESIA is meant to provide relevant government authorities and stakeholders with sufficient information on the Kingfisher oil development project so that an informed decision for approval on environmental and social aspects of the project can be made.
“We are seeking approval to commence implementing the project after the final investment decision is made. We are committed to comply with the oil industry best practices and International financial compliance in all our operations,” Ms Bukenya said.
Like at Rwemisaanga, Mr Geofrey Kumakech, the secretary for production and natural resources said if serious mitigations are not introduced, waters bodies like L. Albert will be contaminated which will put humans and animals at risk.
He said the report does not explain how people who will not be employed in the oil sector will be supported to supply items like local food without exposing the local producers to high and prohibitive competitive standards for all suppliers.
“Even categorising the people of Bunyoro as villagers means that they will not be considered for as members of the local community who are supposed to provide at least 30 percent of labour, according to the labour guidelines in the oil industry national content policy,” he said.
Among other suggestions, at pre- hearing that was organised by Action Aid Uganda, Mr Kumakech said CNOOC should incorporate fishesries management plans for L. Albert and establish effective livelihood strategies and measure to ensure cross-border co-operation with citizens in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Prof Grace Bantebya who was the presiding officer at the hearings is expected to deliver a report to CNOOC after one month, so that all the issues that were raised by citizens in the Albertine Graben are considered.