KAMPALA - Drilling for Uganda's first commercial oil well began this week, as part of a $10 billion project to develop Uganda's oilfields and a controversial pipeline to Tanzania's coast. Authorities say they have addressed concerns about the oil projects' effects on the environment and displacing people. However, critics say the dangers are being ignored.
Uganda began its oil production journey by switching on a drilling rig Tuesday at the Kingfisher oil field in southwest Kikuube district.
The oilfield, run by the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), has cost about $2 billion - part of a $10 billion project to develop Uganda's oil reserves and build a pipeline to Tanzania.
The head of the Petroleum Authority of Uganda, Ernest Rubondo, said they will drill 31 wells at the Kingfisher oil field, up to 10 of them before production starts in two years.
"The Kingfisher oilfield is estimated to have a total of 560 million barrels of oil in place," said Rubondo. " Out of this, 190 million barrels of oil is expected to be produced over a period of 20-25 years. This oil field is expected to have a maximum production of 40,000 barrels of oil per day, for five years."
Uganda's Tilenga oil field, run by France's TotalEnergies, is expected to eventually produce an additional 190,000 barrels per day.
Uganda is also starting this year on a 1,400-kilometer-long pipeline to the Tanzanian port of Tanga, from where the oil will be shipped to international markets.
Authorities are calling the East African Crude Oil Pipeline the world's longest heated pipeline, which critics say has displaced villagers and threatens the environment.
The Kingfisher oil field extends from the shores of Lake Albert three kilometers into the lake.
Activists fear oil could be spilled into the lake or nearby villages and question how waste from the project will be managed.
"We have around seven cases challenging the environmental social impact assessment,' said Dickens Kamugisha, director of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance, a Uganda-based advocacy group. 'And the government of President Museveni has ignored to ensure that the justice system works. And hears and concludes those cases. So, the best we can do is to inform Ugandans that these projects are risky. They will affect your agriculture, they will affect your fisheries, they will affect your tourism, they will affect your lives."
Ugandan officials say displaced villagers were compensated and insist they took strict measures to protect the environment.
Drilling for Uganda's first commercial oil well began this week, as part of a $10 billion project to develop Uganda's oilfields and a controversial pipeline to Tanzania's coast. Authorities say they have addressed concerns about the oil projects' effects on the environment and displacing people. However, critics say the dangers are being ignored.
'We have made sure, that we leave no stone unturned on all the international requirements,' said Ruth Nankabirwa, Uganda's Minister for Energy and Mineral Development. 'Because we know that not everybody wishes Uganda well. That not everybody wishes Africa well. So, we are going to drill, knowing that we have taken care of environmental, health, and safety issues.'
Uganda estimates it has 6.5 billion barrels of crude oil under the lake, but only 1.4 billion are believed recoverable.