Uganda’s Oil journey: Point of no return

Elison Karuhanga

What you need to know:

  • The Kingfisher oil field is just one of 21 oil and gas fields in Uganda. It has 560 million barrels of oil of which an estimated 190 million barrels will be produced from the field.

On January 24, Cnooc Uganda Limited launched its drilling operation at a colourful ceremony in Kikuube District, at the Kingfisher oil field. The company held a public viewing of the drilling rig and launched what is known as spudding of the oil wells at Kingfisher; spudding means beginning to drill an oil well.

The Kingfisher oil field is just one of 21 oil and gas fields in Uganda. It has 560 million barrels of oil of which an estimated 190 million barrels will be produced from the field. The rig which is on the Kingfisher site is a state of the art drilling rig that was tailor made for the Kingfisher oil field.  It is the first 8,000 metre fully automated silent rig in Africa and represents a substantial milestone in the development of Uganda’s oil fields. Hundreds of oil wells will be drilled. The Kingfisher spudding represents the start of the final lap in the long journey to first oil. It is exactly a year since the final investment decision was taken and more than a decade since exploration was first done at Kingfisher and oil discovered there.

The spudding of the Kingfisher oil wells was officially launched by President Museveni and was attended by a number of dignitaries. In many a speech, the pioneers of Uganda’s oil industry took the opportunity to reflect on the country’s oil journey.

As we listened to the speeches, I recalled those famous words that Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography, “... when you climb one hill you realize that there are still many more hills to climb.” He added, “I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment… and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”

Similarly, in Uganda, there are “many more hills to climb” in the journey to first oil. For oil to flow, it will take more than the spudding at the Kingfisher oilfield. We will see the construction of two central processing facilities; a number of feeder pipelines; water abstraction plants, the construction of the Eacop pipeline and the construction of the refinery.  On January 24, there was more than one momentous occasion at Kingfisher for it is here that Eacop received its construction licence from the Government of Uganda. At Kingfisher we shall not just see an oil field but we shall also see a central processing facility that will process the crude oil from the Kingfisher field and subsequently from the Waraga, Mputa and Nzizi oil fields. This small part of Uganda, near the Congo border, will play a significant part in the economic future of Uganda.

The central question is, after first oil is achieved, how will we ensure it spurs growth and makes a positive contribution to the Ugandan economy? Substantial steps need to be taken to ensure that the oil resource is optimally managed. That too is a significant hill to climb.

The spudding of the Kingfisher oil field signified that the Ugandan oil project had crossed the rubicon and reached the point of no return. It is fair to say that the project is now unstoppable.

It is precisely for this reason that many speakers including the President took “.. a moment to rest and view the glorious vista that surrounded them”, literally and figuratively. Many of them were part of the history that had led the country to the Kingfisher oil field on a sunny January day.

The decision to go full speed ahead with this project will certainly pay off. Whether we have support from political leaders in the West or not it is clear that Uganda has taken the sovereign decision to develop this resource.

In his speech, at Kingfisher,  President Museveni said, “Africa is increasingly in control of its own destiny and no longer needs to rely on other countries to promote its economic development.”  It has been an uphill climb for Africa and while we still have “many mountains to climb”, Uganda is now at a point of no return.

The writer is an advocate and partner at Kampala Associated Advocates