In defence of EACOP, oil refinery

Elison Karuhanga  

What you need to know:

In Stopping EACOP, we shall only be entrenching climate poverty


This has been a busy week in the oil and gas sector in Uganda. The pipeline project known as EACOP (East African Crude Oil Pipeline) has come under serious criticism from environmental activists. Two young activists confronted the president of France, Mr Emmanuel Macron, and asked him to denounce EACOP.

Environmental activists have not just met president Macron. They have been travelling around Europe drumming up support for their “Stop EACOP” campaign. They have staged protests outside Total Energies offices in Paris and Berlin. They have met with bank officials from some of the biggest banks in the world. They continue to receive excellent coverage from the international press, particularly Financial Times. They have even had the good fortune of making their case directly to the Pope. These activists travel in planes, cars and trains powered by fossil fuels in their fight against fossil fuels. They continue to use phones to post pictures on social media sites supported by massive data centres that rely to some extent on fossil fuels.

I am sure most of these activists are people of genuine good will. I understand that their campaign is about the effect of fossil fuels on our climate.

The fact is that for a country like Uganda we have to develop EACOP. We must also develop a refinery.

Activists argue that EACOP must be stopped because, among other things, it is the longest pipeline in the world. EACOP will not be the longest pipeline in the world. It will be the longest heated crude oil cross border pipeline in the world. The longest pipeline in the world is the Druzhba oil pipeline which is 5,500km. It connects Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Germany. 

To put the length of EACOP in context, let us take an example of the United States. The US Department of Transportation says America has 2.6 million miles of pipeline. The US Department of Transportation explains that this is a good thing because, “Pipelines enable the safe movement of extraordinary quantities of energy products to industry and consumers, literally fuelling our economy and way of life. The arteries of the nation’s energy infrastructure, as well as one of the safest and least costly ways to transport energy products, our oil and gas pipelines provide the resources needed for national defence, heat and cool our homes, generate power for business and fuel an unparalleled transportation system.. more than 2.6 million miles of pipelines safely deliver trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of billions of tonne/miles of liquid petroleum products each year. They are essential: the volumes of energy products they move are well beyond the capacity of other forms of transportation.”

So, when these activists reach Washington DC and go to meet secretary of state Antony Blinken to attack EACOP they should know that they are probably walking on top of a pipeline.

In arguing for EACOP, we are not making a case for environmental recklessness. EACOP must comply with the highest safety standards. EACOP companies like Total Energies and CNOOC are some of the biggest companies in the world. They have the financial muscle and technical knowhow to deliver a world-class project. We must make sure that they do.

In arguing for the refinery we are making a case for our own energy security. President Museveni once argued that: “If you take all the rivers in Africa, the total capacity of the hydropower is about 300,000 megawatts. If you take the United States they are now using 1 million megawatts. If all the sites on African rivers were developed you would not have enough electricity to support the Africans, unless, you are saying that it has been scientifically proven that Africans do not need electricity.” 

The refinery would be able to generate not just fuel for transportation but also it would broaden our energy mix. The fact is we need EACOP. The fact is we need a refinery as well. The “Stop EACOP” campaign should lend us their expertise in holding EACOP partners to the highest standards in delivering the project. If we “Stop EACOP”, we will not be solving climate change. We shall only be entrenching climate poverty.

The writer is an advocate and partner at Kampala Associated Advocates