Eacop: oil does not want obstacles

This is one of the largest infrastructure projects planned in Africa. But also one of the most contested. With its 1,443 km of pipelines, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) will cut Uganda in two, starting from the district of Hoima, and Tanzania, where it will end in the port of Tanga. Once built, it would be the longest heated pipeline in the world. 

The environmental impacts are devastating. The Murchison Falls nature reserve in Uganda, close to which the black gold will be extracted for a full-scale production of 216 thousand barrels per day, is at very high risk. But the whole area of Lake Albert is in danger. The main fields are two: Kingfisher, managed by China National Offshore Oil Corporation Ltd (CNOOC Ltd), and Tilenga, owned by the French Total. Equally significant are the negative consequences on local populations.

To learn more, we spoke via a digital platform with activists fighting against the pipeline’s construction. A first element that stands out is the situation on the ground, which is tense to say the least. Our interlocutors specifically asked us not to mention their names and those of the organizations they belong to, so as not to put themselves and others involved in the anti-EACOP front at risk. Already at this stage the repression of local governments, involved in the project, is very harsh. Some activists have been arrested on several occasions – the latest case is recent – and even an Italian journalist, Federica Marsi, was stopped while she was on her way, together with activist Maxwell Atuhura, to meet the communities in Buliisa, Uganda.

Murchison Falls, Rod Waddington, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, Wikimedia Commons

As it is made clear to us, EACOP is still in a development phase. Oil exploration is underway, but no pipe has yet been laid. This does not mean that the most crucial phase is not underway from the companies’ point of view, with the compensation to be paid to the local communities that will have to give up the land where the pipeline will pass.This is absolutely one of the core issues, because the amounts of money offered, according to activists, are inadequate and just for parts of the plots of land. It will come to the paradox that many farmers will not have access to part of their lands because they will be divided by the pipes. An “inconvenience” that does not seem to arouse the concerns of the builder consortium, which, however, has already asked those directly involved to stop using the land they own. So the first effects of the work, although still on paper, have in fact already been there. The bargaining power of the communities is reduced to a minimum. For now those who do not want to give up refuse to communicate the bank details where the amounts of compensation should be transferred.

From 2018 until now, the information provided by both companies and governments is minimal, activists explain. An opacity that only further penalizes the local population. However, even the little money that should be paid is likely to have a harmful effect on the equilibrium in the area. However, even the little money that should be paid is likely to have a harmful effect on the equilibrium in the area. According to them, women are the ones who work the land the most. If the land were to be permanently lost, they would find themselves greatly penalized, with the danger of being abandoned by their husbands, who as owners would be the only beneficiaries of compensation. A real social disruption that no one takes into account, neither the promoters of the project nor the funders. 

(Credit: eacop.com)

The work will cost at least $3.5 billion USD. The good news on the Italian side is that the Italian bank UniCredit has already made it known that it will not support EACOP, the bad news is that there will still be an Italian participation. Saipem and Nuovo Pignone will participate in the construction of the refinery, while Bonatti will probably receive a job order, to be understood if it will be involved in the extractive front or – even worse – for the laying of pipes, its core business. All of this is likely to be guaranteed by SACE, the public export credit agency, given the participation of Italian companies, as revealed during the episode of Presa Diretta, “Petrolio, il tempo perduto”. In short, public money for yet another environmental disaster on the African continent.  

This intricate affair must cross African borders as far as possible. This is what the activists, who in conversation with us, launch an appeal for the European public to take an interest in the affair and denounce the conduct of local governments as much as possible. Breaking the silence that surrounds the story of the EACOP is a first step towards trying to block the project, which, also in terms of its harmful effects on the climate, promises to be one of the worst in the coming years.

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