Over the past 10 years there has been increasing interest in the search for mineral resources in East Africa and Eastern DRC, much of it driven by China’s needs for raw materials for its industries. Several large mining companies are moving into eastern DRC such as BANRO and Ashanti-Anglo Gold to look for gold or columbo-tantalite (COLTAN) amongst other minerals. Oil prospecting has also been taking place around most of the lakes in the Albertine Rift with significant finds occurring in Uganda around Lake Albert. These industries are already leading to major development projects and consequent impacts in the Albertine Rift.
WCS’s Albertine Rift Program and Uganda Program have been engaging with the oil industry in Uganda with the aim of minimizing the impacts of oil exploration and production in the region. This approach was adopted because the Wildlife Law in Uganda allows exploration for oil within national parks and the potential revenue it could generate for the country made it unlikely that it could be stopped. However, tourism is currently the main foreign currency generator for the country, and it would be unwise for the country to destroy this industry which will last a lot longer than the 20-30 years it is predicted that the oil will last.
WCS initially brought in expertise in the oil industry in Louise Johnson, who had been the Biodiversity Specialist for British Petroleum and is now a freelance consultant. She made an assessment of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process as well as an assessment of the potential impacts the oil industry could have and suggestions on ways these could be minimized. This analysis led to a major program which aimed to build the capacity of stakeholders in the oil industry in Uganda from Government employees in the Petroleum Department and Wildlife Authority, to EIA practitioners, civil society groups, and even the oil company staff themselves, in best practice methods and ways to minimize impacts.
WCS Uganda also worked with the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to develop an Environmental Sensitivity Atlas and pushed hard for a Strategic Environmental Assessment of the cumulative impacts that oil drilling will have on the environment. All EIA’s just look at the impact of a particular oil pad or drilling rig project and ignore the fact that as more and more rigs are established the impacts increase cumulatively. An SEA will address the wider impacts over time and the oil companies have agreed to move ahead with this. We have also developed a training DVD and supported the Uganda Christian University to incorporate training materials we have developed in their courses across several subjects from oil and gas to environmental, business, legal and community action courses.
WCS Albertine Rift and WCS Uganda together with the Uganda Wildlife Authority also established a monitoring program in Murchison Falls National park to monitor the impacts of oil drilling and oil pad establishment on large mammals and birds. The results show that most species react to the presence of of the pad by moving away up to 750-1000 metres from the pad when the pad is being constructed or drilled but that when the pad is just being maintained they will return to within 250 metres of the site. Whilst this shows that the development of a single pad may not be expected to cause undue harm, the development of several pads at close range will have an undesirable impact over a much larger area.
Identifying Trade-offs for Biodiversity Offsets
WCS has been developing an approach to assess trade-offs in options for land use in order to be able to plan and adapt to the increasing industrialization of the Albertine Rift region. This approach uses conservation planning software such as Marxan to help identify which areas are critical for conservation of the endemic and threatened species, and which areas are less critical and where there are different options when taking decisions about where to target conservation activities. Sites where options are possible can also be sites where biodiversity offsets could be applied.