CSOs want EACOP construction licence halted

Oil pipeline

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working in the oil and gas sector want the Ministry of Energy to stop processing the application submitted by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) Company for a construction licence.

The CSOs demand for the ministry to halt the processing comes after the elapse of 59 days when the EACOP Company submitted to the ministry on July 1, 2022.

Mr Dickens Kamugisha, a lawyer and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), says although the EACOP Company initially followed the laws, they were later dishonoured.

“In applying for the licence, therefore, the EACOP Company was complying with the law. The violation of petroleum laws that happened thereafter was unfortunate however and must be rejected by all right-thinking Ugandans,” he says in a joint communique signed by 15 CSOs.

Mr Kamugisha faults the Minister of Energy for flouting the law when they failed to cause publication of the notice to invite the directly affected parties and local authorities in areas affected by a midstream facility so that they could submit any objections whether on personal, environmental or other grounds within the stipulated timeframe.

“The Minister of Energy is supposed to cause publication of that notice within 45 days after receiving an application for a construction or operation for a construction or operation licence for a midstream facility. However, as at August 28, 2022, 58 days had elapsed since the EACOP Company submitted its application for a construction licence,” he says.

Adding: “In violation of Section 12 (1) and (2) of the 2013 Midstream Act, however, the Minister was by August 28, 2022, yet to invite the public through a newspaper notice to submit their objections to issuance of a construction licence to the EACOP Company.”

Mr Brian Atuheire of the African Initiative on Food Security and Environment (AIFE) says a number of disadvantages lies in the oil sector in Uganda given that the resource lies in an ecologically delicate belt.

“Uganda’s oil resources are located in the environmentally sensitive Albertine Graben. The EACOP is also going to affect farmlands, forests, lakes, wetlands and rivers of not only community but national importance. None-compliance to relevant laws will see huge negative impacts on host communities and other critical biodiversity arising from the EACOP.”

He wants Parliament to engage the minister for not complying with the law on matters related to the oil and gas projects in the country.

“Parliament must, therefore, task the Minister of Energy to explain why her ministry and sister agencies have consistently violated the law when it comes to the EACOP and related oil projects.”

One of the persons affected by the EACOP in Kyotera district, a one Ms Nankya says the government is continuously violating the constitutional laws of Uganda.

“One of the laws that has been violated is the constitution. While Article 26 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution provides that persons from whom government compulsorily acquires land must be paid prompt, fair and adequate compensation, compensation of communities whose land is being acquired for the EACOP started nearly three years after cut-off dates were placed on affected communities’ properties,” she says.

“Today, many people are yet to be compensated and their families are facing untold suffering. Those from Kyotera, Kakumiro, Kikuube, Hoima and elsewhere are also complaining about low compensation.” Ms Nankya continues.

The CSOs say prior to issuance of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate of approval to the Tilenga project developers in 2019, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) violated environmental laws relating to public participation in EIA processes.

This resulted in AFIEGO and youth groups suing the two entities calling for cancellation of the Tilenga EIA certificate in May 2019.

However, hearing of the case is yet to be conclude which the CSOs term as a miscarriage of justice.

Mr Cyrus Kabaale of Strategic Response on Environment and Conservation (STREC) says any stakeholders participating in any processes against the law are abetting lawlessness in the oil sector in Uganda.

“By participating in processes through which Uganda’s laws are violated and courts fail to dispense justice, the oil companies including TotalEnergies, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and UGANDA National Oil Company (UNOC) that are operating in Uganda are aiding and abetting violation of laws yet they continually tell Ugandans that they are committed to ensuring the highest standards in the oil and gas sector. How can any standards be met when national laws are wantonly violated? He says.

“The companies must stop aiding and abetting violations by refusing to participate in processes where laws are violated. On principle, therefore, they must task the Ministry of Energy to stop processing their application for an EACOP construction licence.” Mr Kabaale adds.

Ms Irene Twongirwe of Women for Green Economic Movement (WoGEM) avers that “Civil society groups and Ugandans of goodwill should not look on as Uganda’s laws are violated. They should file court cases to stop the abuse of Uganda’s laws.”

Some of the CSOs in this call include Centre for Environmental Research and Agriculture (CERAI), East African Crude Oil Pipeline Host Communities (EACOPHC), Environment Governance Institute (EGI), South Western Institute for Policy and Advocacy (SOWIPA), Tasha Research Institute Africa, Oil and Gas Residents’ Association (ORGA) and Oil Refinery Residents Association (ORRA) among others.

The law

The Midstream Act Section 9 (1) of the 2013 Petroleum (Refining, Conversion, Transmission and Midstream Storage), requires that any entity that wants to construct or operate any midstream facility like a refinery, transmission pipeline, gas conversion facility and others should get a licence from the Minister of Energy.

Section 12 (1) of Uganda’s 2013 Midstream Act provides that “The Minister shall, within forty-five days after receiving the application for a licence, cause a notice of the publication to be published in the Gazette and at least one national newspaper of wide circulation in Uganda.”

Section 12 (2) provides that “A notice published under subsection (1) shall— (a) indicate the receipt of the application for a licence; (b) contain a description of the nature and location of the proposed operation or facility; (c) inform members of the public that the application may, within the limits of the laws governing intellectual property rights and commercial confidentiality be inspected at the offices of the Minister; and (d) invite directly affected parties and local authorities in areas affected by the project who object to the granting of the licence, whether on personal, environmental or other grounds, to lodge with the Minister an objection within a specified time, being not less than thirty days after the notice.”

Section 14 (1) of the Midstream Act provides that, “An aggrieved party may lodge with the Minister an objection to the grant of a license, setting out the grounds for the objection within the time specified in the notice of application, being not less than thirty days after the notice.” They also recalled that Section 14(3) of the same act provides that “The Minister shall consider the objection raised under subsection (1) and make a decision within thirty days”.

Section 15(1) of Uganda’s 2013 Midstream Act provides that “The Minister shall consider and determine an application for a licence in a manner prescribed by [the] regulations— (a) after the expiration of the period stated in section 12(2) (d), if no objection has been received; and (b) after receiving the response of the applicant to objections.” By denying stakeholders an opportunity to submit objections to the licence, the Minister was effectively locking Ugandans, who own the country’s oil and gas resources, from deciding how the resource is developed.

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