The Uganda government has given petroleum companies a go-ahead to drill oil from the Murchison Fallsâ€“Albert Delta, an internationally recognized wetland protected site. The delta is also listed as a Ramsar site under the Ramsar Treaty and provides vital habitat for different bird species and other threatened plants and animals.
The delta is also listed as a Ramsar site under the Ramsar Treaty to which Uganda is a signatory and provides vital habitat for different bird species and other threatened plants and animals.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971, as an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance. Under the treaty, member countries are required to plan for the wise or sustainable use of all of the wetlands in their territories.
Previously, there was debate that government should not relent to the interests of petroleum companies to drill oil from the environmentally-sensitive areas.
However, Tom Okurut, the executive director of the National Environment Management Authority—NEMA has disclosed that government has allowed the drilling of oil from the Murchison Falls Delta to go on. He however said the petroleum company has been given strict conditions to first drill on land vertically up to a specified depth before applying a horizontal drill in order to reach the oil deposits without substantially disturbing the environment.
Okurut said the horizontal drilling would help minimize chances of oil spills in the water body. He added that CNOOC, the Chinese Oil and Gas Company, would also employ the same method at its Kingfisher oil well. He said the horizontal technology works best in locations where the oil deposits are located more than 600 metres below the ground.
//Cue in: “There were some proposals…
Cue out: …the only technology.”//
Total Exploration and Production Company holds license to explore oil in the areas of Pakwach Basin and Paraa as a result of the transfer of interests from Tullow and holds about 33 percent of license in three other areas around Lake Albert area. In April, Total in a statement to parliament said that they would identify and monitor significant environmental factors in order to lessen the impact of its activities on the environment in the areas where they are involved in oil exploration in the country.
It’s however not yet clear what exact impact the decision will cause on the wetlands and the biodiversity in the area but the decision by government to allow the oil company to go ahead with exploration on the Murchison Delta is bound to draw varied reactions from environmentalists.
Robert Ddamulira, the Energy and Climate Manager at World Wide Fund, a conservation organization, says that 70 percent of all Ugandan protected areas comprise the most promising prospects for oil and gas development. Ddamulira adds that while the benefits of the petroleum resources are much, it’s wants to strengthen management of wetlands and water sources among other measures to ensure there is no contamination of domestic water sources and other effects on fisheries and other water resources.
The Murchison Falls Albert Delta has been at the centre of a long debate on whether or not government should allow oil drilling on it stretches from the top of Murchison Falls. It is where River Nile flows through a rock cleft some 6 metres wide, to the delta at its confluence with Lake Albert. The area is reportedly important for water birds, especially the Shoebill, Pelicans, Darters and various heron species and an important spawning and breeding ground for Lake Albert fisheries, containing indigenous fish species.