Facing critics, Total to minimize oil work in Uganda park


KAMPALA, Uganda — The French oil company Total says it will limit its work to extract oil from a Ugandan national park to less than 1% of the protected area, seeking to assuage the concerns of activists who oppose the project.

Total said it would support funding a 50% increase in the number of game rangers in Murchison Falls National Park, the largest protected area in Uganda.

Total also announced that it would take steps to minimize damage to the lives of people disrupted by a pipeline that will run from Uganda to Tanzania. The oil company will give each of the 723 households whose primary residences are affected by the pipeline project either a new house in a new location or money, the company said in a statement on Monday.

Total acknowledged “significant social and environmental stakes” posed by oil wells and the pipeline, and pledged to respond responsibly.

“We are mobilizing substantial resources to ensure that these projects are carried out in an exemplary manner and create value for the people in both countries,” Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne said in the statement, referring to the oil extraction and pipeline projects.

The leaders of Uganda and Tanzania signed an agreement last September for the construction of what will be the world’s longest heated oil pipeline, linking Uganda’s planned oil fields in the country’s west to Tanzania’s Indian Ocean port of Tanga. Construction of the 897-mile pipeline is expected to begin this year.

The pipeline project has been heavily criticized by activists who say the rights of local residents are at risk and that the pipeline, crossing rivers and farmland, will damage fragile ecosystems. More than 12,000 families could lose their land to the project, according to the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights.

Last week 263 groups from 49 countries urged banks not to finance the pipeline’s construction as Total and its partner in Uganda, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, are nearing what is known as a final investment decision.

In an open letter warning the CEOs of 25 banks against backing a $2.5 billion loan needed to start construction, the organizations called the $3.5 billion pipeline project “manifestly irresponsible” because it is incompatible with the goals of the Paris climate accord.

Dickens Kamugisha, head of the Uganda-based Africa Institute for Energy Governance, told The Associated Press on Monday that Total’s offer to minimize activities in Murchison Falls National Park is simply not enough.

“It does not matter whether the central (processing) facilities are out of the park or in the middle of the park,” he said. “There are huge possibilities that the park will never be the same again.”

But local authorities are eager to see the start of oil production. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has expressed optimism that earnings from oil exports will launch the country into middle-income status.

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