EAC urged to draft oil policies that promote environmental conservation

The East African Community (EAC) needs to formulate oil and gas sector policies, which promote sustainable development of the natural resources, environmental issues, and ensure prudent oil cash management systems, Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Minister for Natural Resources, has said.

The East African Community (EAC) needs to formulate oil and gas sector policies, which promote sustainable development of the natural resources, environmental issues, and ensure prudent oil cash management systems, Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Minister for Natural Resources, has said. 

“Oil and gas industry activities should be carried out in a sustainable manner, with clear mitigation measures in place to safeguard the environment and bio-diversity.

“This will also play a big role in combating climate change as impending oil production in region will ease pressure on forests since most people rely on wood fuel… So, oil and gas could be the best alternative, which will help reduce deforestation across the region,” Biruta said.

He was speaking at the just-concluded seventh petroleum sector East African conference in Kigali.

He also called for sensitisation of the public so that people acquire the necessary knowledge and skills, attitude and motivation to stop deforestation and pollution of the environment.

The East African region has confirmed huge oil and gas finds; Uganda has over 6.5 billion barrels of commercial oil resources in the Albertine Graben, which also hosts a national park.

This exposes the bio-diversity to danger if due care is not taken to protect the fauna and flora in the area. The country is preparing to embark on the production phase, while Kenya with an estimated one billion barrels of recoverable oil, targets to start oil production in 2017.

Tanzania has huge gas resources, with the government estimate of recoverable natural gas resources up to 53.2 trillion cubic feet (tcf) offshore to the south of the country, as of late last year. Rwanda is currently seeking firms to explore for oil and gas, with promising prospects in the Lake Kivu area. All these activities could lead to environmental degradation if there are no stringent laws and policies to guide oil development activities, experts say.

“Oil and gas exploration, development and production activities could have a devastating impact on the region’s aquatic life and environment in general, if precaution is not taken. This could also hurt the region’s tourism industry, food security and weather partners, thus slowing down economic growth,” Isaiah Okuthe, the principal renewable energy officer at Kenya’s Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, said.

“Historically, many new oil-producing countries have failed to give adequate attention to the environmental and social aspects of the petroleum sector early, resulting into catastrophic environmental disasters,” Okuthe added.

There is need to establish conservation pressure groups, with requisite expertise to serve as an appropriate watchdog, educating the public to inculcate environmental values and the culture of preservation and conservation among the entire citizenry, he said.

Edgar Buhanga, the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s deputy director in charge of planning, said overlooking environmental and social impact of the oil and gas activities could be counterproductive as far as economic growth is concerned.

Buhanga said as Uganda enters the development phase, and licensing of new blocks for exploration, the volume of oil activities is going to increase, which calls for caution and right policies to protect the biodiversity of the Albertine Graben.

Companies and governments must use the best technology to avoid or minimise environmental impact, according to Herbert Magyezi Mugizi, a petroleum engineer in Uganda’s department of petroleum exploration and production.

“Oil companies need to develop the necessary capacities for oil and conservation to co-exist.

“This can only be achieved through a well-structured social investment strategy and sustainable programmes for social acceptability,” Magyezi said.

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