French energy giant TotalEnergies has unveiled a biodiversity program for its Tilenga oil project in the Albertine region.
Named the Tilenga biodiversity program, the project according to Total Energies is meant to ensure positive outcomes for biodiversity and communities are realized by applying the mitigation hierarchy to "avoid, minimize and restore" impacts.
The program will involve designing, implementing and monitoring a range of interventions in partnership with authorities, conservation actors present in the landscape and community based organizations including NEMA, Uganda Wildlife Authority and Petroleum Authority of Uganda.
"As TotalEnergies believe that the biodiversity sector is important for Uganda for the future. There is legitimate fear that our activities in the oil sector will have an impact on biodiversity and we are here to transform that fear and demonstrate it is an opportunity we can use to preserve nature. We will positively contribute by making sure nature will be in a better situation compared to what it was before the oil project," said Philippe Groueix, the General Manager TotalEnergies EP Uganda.
"We are mindful of the sensitive context within which we are undertaking our activities. We have thus made a commitment to ensure that we implement action plans designed to produce net positive impact on biodiversity. The biodiversity program will ensure a sustainable approach in working with community towards protecting and conserving the ecologically rich area in and around the Murchison Falls Conservation Area."
He explained that for many years, the energy company together with other stakeholders were involved in research in a bid to come up with a biodiversity conservation program that will ensure everyone benefits from Uganda's oil project, especially the Tilenga area they control.
"Now is the time to take action on the ground. The four pillars of our biodiversity program will base on the wetlands, savannah, forests and the national park. We will not do it alone but a collective responsibility of everyone including government, experts and NGOs. With this collaboration, the results will materialise."
He noted that whereas the results will not be instant, they will be seen with time, noting that no specific amount has been set for the program but rather the oil company will always inject in money to ensure realisation of their goals.
According to Simon Nampindo, the Country Director for Wildlife Conservation Society, the Murchison Falls protected area which includes Murchison Falls National Park(3898 square kilometres), Karuma Wildlife Reserve and the Bugungu Wildlife Reserve among others is home to many animals, plant and bird species among others that he said as part of biodiversity need to be conserved.
"In this area, we have 144 mammal species, 556 bird species, 51 reptiles, 28 amphibians and 755 plants that need to be protected and conserved that we will stand to be blamed if we stood on the fence and watched the show on conserving them. The area is also one of the prime areas where we find Nubian giraffes and 144 lions. We are working with TotalEnergies to make sure they understand this is an important landscape for biodiversity conservation and with this comes the tourism sector which earns a lot for Uganda,"Nampindo said, emphasizing the importance of the area to the country.
He noted that through the years, the Wildlife Conservation Society has been undertaking studies trying to understand how oil exploration activities might impact wildlife in the Albertine region but insisted more studies are still ongoing.
"These are long term studies which we can't conclusively come out with facts right now; We continue to monitor the animals in the national park. As part of this program, we will be seeing how TotalEnergies will try to avoid the critical habitat, eco-system and species during their oil exploration activities in terms of design of the infrastructure, planning of the design and activities in this landscape."
The NEMA Executive Director, Dr. Akankwasa Barirega noted that as the regulator, the environmental body said they are willing to work with every stakeholder to ensure protection of the environment.
"As NEMA, we are going to use this project as a pilot on biodiversity offset. We believe this will be a litmus test in the implementation of the NEMA Act 2019. We look forward to having a verifiable and measurable program that will include compensation for the land lost or taken away from conservation. As regulators, we shall ensure we monitor this program effectively to have measurable outcomes to demonstrate the net gain," he said.
According to Dr.Joseph Kobusheshe, the Director for Environment, Health, Safety and Security at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda said the biodiversity project is one of the ways government is ensuring Ugandans fully benefit from the oil.
"With respect to oil and gas, as the Petroleum Authority of Uganda want to ensure the people are left in a better position than when oil started."
According to officials from TotalEnergies, the program will have a landscape view that is aimed at promoting collaboration and coordination of conservation efforts with communities, partners and mandated institutions but also to ensure alignment with the overall vision for conservation in the Albertine Rift.
The Tilenga biodiversity program will also help do a thorough understanding of the ecological context through monitoring of key species and habitats as well as long-term monitoring and evaluation on the effectiveness of the program.
It will for example monitor key species in Murchison Falls National Park like giraffes, elephants, lions and hartebeests as well as chimpanzee surveys in Budongo Forest where other studies have been carried out on key habitats including wetlands, savanna and forests outside of protected areas as part of the program.
The program will also have a mitigation hierarchy to manage the impacts of the project as a priority and this will include adapting such measures to ensure that they remain effective.