Is Uganda Ready for Oil Spills?

“The Gulf of Mexico’s well-developed infrastructure and access to the most technologically advanced methods for responding to a spill offer the best possible set of circumstances for coping with such a disaster,” said WWF-US Vice-President for Arctic and Marine Policy William Eichbaum.

“Yet despite all these advantages, the crisis continues to worsen.”

The above quote is from an article on the website of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), referring to the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Now let’s take a moment to reflect on the situation in Uganda.  Somehow “well-developed infrastructure,” “technologically advanced” and “best possible set of circumstances” just aren’t the phrases that come to mind when I think of the drilling that is happening in Murchison Falls National Park and other “protected” areas in Uganda.

Granted, at this point the drilling in Uganda is happening on land near water rather than drilling right in the middle of Lake Albert where damage from a spill could spread much more quickly (and I think we have the border conflicts with Congo during early exploration to thank for that).  However, the Ugandan government has already been complaining that they don’t feel Tullow Oil has good measures in place to contain a spill or other disaster, despite Tullow’s claims to the contrary.  If the oil company doesn’t respond well and quickly to a disaster, what is the next line of defense?  There is no coast guard, and with the oil industry being so nascent here, who besides the oil companies has the experience to respond to an oil-related disaster?

The oil development in Uganda is happening in the most biologically diverse part of the country, and one of the most diverse areas on the planet.  The first test wells in Murchison Falls National Park are right at the Nile River/Lake Albert Delta area, an internationally recognized RAMSAR site.  That is a clear signal to the world that even the most valuable and sensitive natural areas are open for oil development.

We know that oil-related disasters can happen even under the “best possible set of circumstances.”  Shouldn’t that make Uganda think twice about drilling in some of its most cherished natural areas?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

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