Tilenga Project: NEMA conducts successful public hearings

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has successfully conducted two public hearings linked to the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Report for the Tilenga Oil Project. The hearings were held on November 12th and 15th 2018, in Bulisa and Nwoya districts respectively in conjunction with the Petroleum Authority of Uganda.

The Tilenga project refers to the development and production of oil fields within
Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) - North of the Victoria Nile in Nwoya District,
and South of Victoria Nile in Buliisa District. The name Tilenga is derived from the two local names for the Uganda Kob (Antelope), which is called “Til” in Alur/ Acholi and “Engabi” in Lugungu.

In 2016, the Government of Uganda granted Production Licenses to Total Exploration and Production Uganda B.V. (TEP Uganda) and Tullow Uganda Operations Pty Ltd (TUOP) to develop and operate upstream petroleum facilities in the Albertine Graben. TEP Uganda was granted Production Licenses for Ngiri, Jobi-Rii, Gunya fields while TUOP was granted Production Licenses in Mputa-Nzizi-Waraga, Kasemene-Wahrindi, Kigogole- Ngara, Nsoga and Ngege fields.

In accordance with the National Environment Act Cap 153 and the National Environment (Environment Impact Assessment) Regulations, S.I No. 153-1,
Total E&P Uganda and Tullow Uganda operations Pty Ltd prepared the ESIA for the proposed Tilenga project; following the discovery of the commercially viable oil deposits during the exploration phase; and submitted the report to NEMA for consideration.

After the ESIA report was made public on the NEMA, Total, PAU websites and several libraries; the public was asked to review the document and the two public hearings were subsequently held, as part of the processes to ensure transparency in the approval process.

During the first hearing held at Buliisa district headquarters; some members of the community argued that they were not consulted about timely compensation and feared they would lose their land to the project; and also questioned how communal land would be compensated.

Mr. Dickens Kamugisha, the chief executive of the Africa Institute of Energy, reechoed the need for a law that ensures that the developer comes up with a resettlement plan for those that shall be required to vacate their land to pave way for the project. “Currently there is no law to guide the implementation plans. I recommend that after the necessary consultation with the communities, the resettlement plans need to be completed and approved,” he said.

Mr. Enoch Bigirwa, the Bagungu Community Association Chairperson noted that the ESIA did not recognize the Bagungu as an indigenous tribe in the Albertine Graben; and suggested that the project be renamed to Bugungu – Tilenga Oil Project.

In response to the concerns, Ms Marion Adengo, the head of social affairs Total E& P said most of concerns were covered in the ESIA report and urged the people to read the entire document. “For compensation delays, we have gone through a stage and we are trying to see how we can narrow it down. Plus there were some other good suggestions that have been put across here; when NEMA gets back to all stakeholders we shall have a way forward” She further added.

To have the project renamed Bugungu-Tilenga, Ms Adengo explained would call for engagement of the three Kingdoms; Acholi, Alur and Bagungu. She, however, advised against it, saying renaming the project would be reason for the other two tribes to ask that the project takes up their names as well.

NEMA ED Dr. Tom Okurut, while closing the hearing informed the gathering that the outcomes of the public review would contribute towards making a final decision of the project in accordance with the environment impact assessment regulations; and assured the stakeholders that all their concerns would be considered and looked into.

At the Nwoya public hearing two days later held at Gwotapwoyo Primary School, the controversy of the Tilenga project name was again raised. Local leaders asked that the oil fields be named after the lineage of indigenous chiefs.
The leaders also claimed the developers had not undertaken enough Corporate Social Responsibility activities in the Northern part of the project area and urged the developers to consider undertaking similar projects in the north as had been done in the Buliisa area.

Robert Steen Omito, the Packwac District Chairperson cautioned against tribalization of the oil projects warning that it would spark off emotions that would lead to armed conflicts.

However the State Minister for Mineral development, Peter Lokeris said the argument over the naming of the project should be not become a dividing factor and reminded participants that the project would cease to be once the developments is complete.

The Tilenga Project is of interest because stakeholders are afraid that such developments in an ecologically fragile area in Murchison falls national park and around the Nile delta could potentially affect the environment. The national park is one of Uganda’s leading tourism destinations and it hosts thousands of species of animals, birds, insects and reptiles.

Other concerns are that River Nile waters are shared by Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt and DRC and therefore any form of pollution in the form of oil spills would likely cause hostility from other countries that share the resource.

NEMA is yet to make a final decision on the Tilenga ESIA

Tony Achidria;
Senior Public Relations Officer