It looks like oil drilling is set to go ahead in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park after a French court on Tuesday dismissed a landmark case against TotalEnergies.
Together with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and state-owned Uganda National Oil Company, it plans to drill for oil in Uganda and export it via a 1,443 km-long pipeline to Tanzania’s coast.
The six NGOs that filed the suit against the development of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), hoped the case would set a legal precedent to halt projects deemed harmful to the environment and human rights.
Environmentalists believe oil extraction in the park will endanger the animals, violate the human rights of the people who will be displaced, may threaten the region’s water supply, and will also double Uganda and Tanzania’s annual carbon emissions.
And they say the project will likely also have a devastating impact on biodiversity in the area.
"If you look at the area that is being cleared in form of roads and the pads themselves that are being constructed, if there is no restoration then you lose that biodiversity, you lose that vegetation cover and that vegetation cover is even habitat for some of the small living organisms," said Paul Twebaze, an environmentalist from the NGO, Pro-diversity Conservationists in Uganda.
But others disagree.
"The good thing is that some of these animals are adaptive. Like elephants, they will see the road has not been in place and so they will always try to see whether it is possible for them to cross the road. So, most of the animals have not been blocked, I must say. The park is big," said Murchison Falls National Park community conservation officer, Wilson Kagoro.
In fact, some of those working in the park says that where it has already been used for oil exploration, the negative impact has been negligible.
"After the drilling imported material was removed, the area was restored,” said Moses Dhabasadha, environment compliance supervisor in the park.
“Some grass was brought, planted, and now it's started establishing. The way it is, it has recovered, satisfactorily and it is as if no activity has ever been done here."
While strongly opposed by environmentalists, supporters say the $10-billion oilfields and pipeline project between Uganda and Tanzania will be an economic boon for both countries.