How will oil impact Murchison Falls National Park?
What you need to know:
Whereas some environmentalists have raised concerns in regard to oil activities in game parks, oil companies say they have environmentally friendly technology that minimizes damage on animal activities.
It is only a 15-kilometre drive from Paraa Bridge in Murchison Falls National Park to north of River Nile.
Here, Pearl Engineering is undertaking the construction of the Tangi Operation Support Base Camp.
The base camp is expected to be complete in July or mid-August. It will host more than 600 workers, who will handle oil operations for more than 10 well pads in Murchison National Falls Park.
However, the threat of oil operations within Uganda’s largest conservation area remains a concern to environmentalists.
Murchison falls is the largest and second-most visited national park in Uganda. It is ecologically important for a number of both global and regional species.
It comprises of an array of protected sites plus a forest reserves that form an important animal corridor. It also represent a biodiversity hotspot for tourism and recreation.
Total Energies in its Environmental Social Impact Assessment indicates that the park together with the adjacent Bugungu and Karuma wildlife reserve, forms part of the Murchison Falls Protection Area.
To put this in perspective, the national park covers Ramsar site, the Murchison Falls–Albert Delta Wetland System that was declared in 2006, consisting of the River Nile from the Murchison falls up to and including a small part of Lake Albert.
The park also has a key birding area with 451 species ranging from the rare shoe-bill stork to the dwarf kingfisher and goliath heron. It also has 76 species of mammals as well as Uganda’s largest population of the Nile crocodile.
It is also home to the largest protected population of Rosthschild’s giraffes and the recovering population of 950 elephants.
For oil and gas extraction to occur in such a conservation areas, large-scale infrastructure such as roads, oil pipelines and buildings, which can adversely affect animal habitat, migratory pathways, and biodiversity, according to documented research by World Wildlife Fund, has to be constructed.
Winfred Ngabiirwe, the Global Rights Alert executive director, shares similar fears from his research outlining that oil activities could cause huge consequences such as loss of biodiversity, given the ecological sensitivity of the Albertine Graben.
Ngabirwe notes that there is a high risk of pollution, disruption of wildlife, especially movements and mating patterns due to habitat demolition, and extended environmental footprint due to paving of roads and clearing drilling pads.
In fact, the World Wildlife Fund research further shows oil spills could also occur from blowouts, pipeline leaks or failures, accidents which pose a serious threat to ecosystems.
Even so, oil and gas operations release tonnes of pollutants into the air and sometimes discharge chemicals into water.
On its website, Total Energies indicates that in 2012, it accepted the challenge of working in Uganda’s largest protected area – the Murchison Falls National Park despite concerns being raised.
It goes on to spell out how it intends to use environmentally friendly technology within the park based on what it describes as; “proven capability in developing oil resources in sensitive areas, and creating a project that shows how oil, environment and tourism can co-exist harmoniously.”
Some of this technologies, Total Energies indicates include 3D cable-less seismic technology deployed during the exploration phase for the first time on shore in Africa, which placed Uganda at the forefront of using innovative technology in oil exploration.
3D seismic acquisition, according to Total, is based on the same principle as the ultrasound scanners used in medical clinics.
The technology produces quick results with less manpower and fewer supporting vehicles.
The technology has helped the company to achieve best coverage and quality data without deploying kilometres of cables, thus limiting the impact on vegetation.
Joseph Kobusheshe, the Environment, Health, Safety and Security at Petroleum Authority of Uganda director in a series of opinions about the subject writes that the deployment of a modern cable-less technology in the national park in 2013 did not require any clearance of vegetation in the park.
“The well sites were fully restored after drilling activities and had it not been for a small concrete well site marker, it would be impossible for one to even know that petroleum activities were previously undertaken in the area,” he says.
Anita Kayongo, the Total Energies corporate affairs manager, says they will undertake oil drilling in the national park in accordance with the Avoid – Reduce – Compensate principles that underpins its biodiversity policy.
“Total Energies has decided to reduce the Tilenga project’s footprint in the park to a minimum. The project’s temporary and permanent installations, including well sites, will take up less than 0.05 percent of the park’s land area,” she says.
The Tilenga Project Area within the national park covers oil production licenses surface of 337 kilometres out of the total 3,900 kiometres coverage of the park.
However, Total Energies has prioritised the Jobi Rii oil field with surface coverage of 36 kilometres.
Kayongo notes that the oil wells will be drilled in dedicated sites, and each site will comprise several wells to limit their number.
The number of well pads or sites in Murchison Falls National Park has been limited to 10, in which around 140 wells will be drilled. The oil wells drilled per site will range from six to 23 and the 10 well pads have been designed to be as compact as possible, with a minimised visual impact.
“In regards to the principle of avoid- we have decided to avoid areas that were identified such as Ramsar sites, which are ecologically sensitive,” Kayongo says.
Total Energies footprint within the park has been limited to 0.6 kilometers for temporary facilities and 1.2 kilometres for permanent facilities with impact avoidance and mitigation measures included in design.
Additionally, the oil company will have no treatment facilities in the park but will instead, evacuate all waste for treatment and will maintain horizontal drilling for Nile crossing.
The company has also put a measure for no night-time working in the park, except for drilling and traffic management plans to minimise the number of its operation vehicles to limit interferences with touristic activities in the park.
Petroleum Authority of Uganda also indicates Total Energies will minimise the visual impact of oil rigs in Murchison Falls National Park where feasible, the light will be directed inwards the facilities and will be of warm or neutral colour to limit the nuisance and to avoid attracting animals.
Additionally, Kobusheshe notes the project will be developed by applying state-of-the-art energy efficient and environmentally friendly technologies that will include multiple drilling of up to 25 wells from a single well pad and sharing of facilities in order to minimise environmental footprint.
He adds that crude oil pipelines are also expected to be buried and equipped with leak detectors and valves to automatically shut down the pipeline in case of damage or abnormalities.
Other mitigation measures according to Kobusheshe will involve water recycling that will greatly reduce the amount of freshwater abstraction by over 90 percent and also avoid the huge volumes of wastewater requiring treatment and discharge into the environment.
“No flaring or venting of oil or gas will be permitted during normal operations. Overall, the projects fall within the category of ‘low emission,” Kobusheshe concludes.
UWA reports increase in wildlife populations
What you need to know:
- During the past 25 years, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has registered a significant increment in the wildlife populations of most wildlife species.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) will this year celebrate its silver jubilee. Celebrations will be held on June 24, 2022 and its report shows an increase in wildlife populations in the protected areas that it manages.
During the past 25 years, UWA has registered a significant increment in the wildlife populations of most wildlife species.
Reports indicate that the population of giraffes has increased from 153 recorded in 1996 to 1968 animals recorded in 2020. Giraffes are a key attraction in the popular Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park.
The population of elephants has increased from 1,100 recorded in 1996 to 7975 animal-count in 2020. It should be noted that elephants are among the most vulnerable animals that are poached for their tasks.
The population of Zebras has increased from 1700 recorded in 1996 to 17516 animals registered in 2020. Zebras are protected in Lake Mburo National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park.
The population of buffaloes has increased from 17,000 animals to over 44163 animals in 2020.
The fate of Rhinos
At the time of instating UWA as a semi-autonomous government body; rhinos had been declared extinct. With the re-introduction of rhinos in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda has registered a population of 33 rhinos that are protected at the sanctuary.
There are plans to restock some of Uganda’s national parks where rhinos used to live. These include the Pian Upe Game Reserve and the Kidepo Valley National Park in northern Uganda.
Uganda wildlife Authority with the help of Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) has held a number of seminars where they have taught residents of the former wild rhino habitats about conservation. These efforts have been done to prepare the local communities for the re-introduction of rhinos in the wild.
Primates on the rise
Uganda is one of the few countries where primates thrive. The most popular primates protected in Uganda’s forests are the rare mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and the golden monkeys. However, this is not all that you find in the protected areas under Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). There are other primates flourishing in the conservation areas including but not limited to the olive baboons, vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, red tailed monkeys among several other primates.
It should be noted that Uganda is one of the only three countries that protect the mountain gorillas. These great apes have been listed as endangered on the IUCN List.
In Uganda, the mountain gorillas are found in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National park. Bwindi protects a large population of over 480 mountain gorillas that is almost half of the world’s remaining population of mountain gorillas.
From the days where there were less than 500 mountain gorillas in the whole world to the present record where there are over 1000 mountain gorillas surviving in Rwanda, Democratic republic of Congo and Uganda; the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has actively been part of this journey.
Uganda has the highest density of chimpanzees in Africa. UWA reports that the population of chimpanzees has increased from 1084 animal count recorded at the start of their tenure in 1996 to 5072 animals recorded in 2020. Chimpanzees are jealously protected in Kibale National Park, Budongo Forest, Kaniyo Pabidi, the Kyambura Gorge, Kalinzu Forest etc.
Though chimpanzees have seen a rise, there are still more threats to the protection of these great apes. Bugoma Forest is still facing demolition and there are also reports of chimpanzees that are not attended to in Mubende.
Ngamba Island and “Entebbe zoo” are the only two places where chimpanzees can be rehabilitated in Uganda but with the increased threats in Bugoma forest and Mubende; it is still unclear whether these two places are well prepared to respond to the damages of the human-animal conflict most especially in Bugoma Forest Area.
The Uganda wildlife Authority shared its concerns about the human conflict in the chimpanzee habitat of Bugoma Forest but nothing much has been done till now. In the recent presidential address on the high prices; the president echoed the need for conservation of Uganda’s forest cover but the Bugoma forest has not yet benefited from the same.
Translocation of Wildlife
UWA has done a lot in the translocation of wildlife and repopulating wildlife estates in the last 10 years. Over 601 wild animals of different species have been translocated. A significant population of giraffes was translocated from Murchison Falls National Park to Lake Mburo National Park and Pian Upe Game Reserve.
UWA reports that by 2020, the translocated animals were estimated to have multiplied to 1530 individuals. This prominent increase offers hope for those that have banked their future on Uganda’s tourism which mainly depends on wildlife.
Uganda wildlife Authority has done recognizable work in the conservation of wildlife. However, even though it has a number of successes to air out; there are also a number of issues still at hand raising grievances and fears among conservationists and tourism stakeholders.
UWA criticized on the fate of cats
Amidst a number of recorded successes in wildlife conservation, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has been criticized by several conservationists and tour operators over the fate of the big cats.
One of the conservationists, Ben Ntale raised concerns over the statistics of cats most especially lions and leopards. He said that “there are endless reports of lions being killed while UWA is watching”.
Recently on April 25, 2022, three female lions were reported to have been killed by electrocution in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. This still raises concerns about the safety of wildlife in the Queen Elizabeth national park.
Another stray lion was recently killed in Western Uganda in April 2022. The lion was gunned down during a joint operation involving the Uganda Police, UPDF, and UWA.
In the past lions have been reported to have been killed by poisoning. In 2021, UWA reported the death of six lions through poisoning. These lions died along with eight vultures that fed on their carcasses.
In another similar incident reported in 2018, a pride of 11 lions was killed, including eight cubs that were found dead. They were also poisoned and at the time, UWA blamed cattle keepers for poisoning them to save their livestock.
Bashir Hangi spokesperson of UWA said that the killing of lions and other animals in the game parks affects the tourism industry.
“The killing of lions affects tourism in the country. When people out there hear that lions in the game parks are being killed in big numbers, they lose interest in coming to visit the game parks,” he said.
Poaching Still a Big Threat
According to UWA, the cases of killing and poaching animals in game parks have recently gone up and the situation worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
According to UWA, last year between February and June, 367 poaching cases were recorded across the country which is higher than 163 cases recorded during the same period in 2020.
Jinja city to become Eastern Uganda tourism gateway
Jinja city to become Eastern Uganda tourism gateway
The plans are a result of a meeting held between the UTB, Jinja City Council officials and the Private Sector at the Jinja City Hall under the theme “Showcasing Tourism Potential for Jinja City.
The meeting was chaired by the acting Jinja Town Clerk – John Gulooba Choli, and was attended by the UTB delegation led by UTB Chairman, Daudi Migereko, Vice Chairperson, Susan Muhwezi, directors, management of the board and other participants.
The stakeholder engagement meeting highlighted the challenges faced by tourism sector in the city as well as strategies to mitigate the hurdles ahead of recovery of the tourism industry. It comes at a time when UTB is profiling Entebbe-Kampala-Jinja City to identify potential tourism sites in these cities, discover tourism opportunities therein, and potential investment areas and promote them as potential tourist destinations.
Gulooba said the tourism sector in Jinja and Busoga region face numerous challenges including limited government funding towards tourism activities, inadequate tourism infrastructure and awareness of the tourism products.
Migereko said there is an urgent need to develop a sound maintenance program for key access roads to tourism hotspots such as Bridge Street and the Source of the Nile. He also said, there is a need to curate, authenticate and standardize the information shared by tour guides at these attractions for an exceptional tourism experience by travellers.
UTB’s Tourism City Development Plans have earmarked the development of Jinja as a gateway tourism city in the financial Year 2022/23.