TotalEnergies drills first oil wells for huge Uganda project

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TotalEnergies announced Tuesday it had started drilling wells for oil in Uganda as part of a huge project condemned by environmental and rights groups.

The French oil major and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) signed a $10-billion agreement last year to develop Ugandan oilfields and ship the crude via a 1,445-kilometre (900-mile) pipeline to Tanzania’s Indian Ocean port of Tanga.

Drilling began in July “to start production in 2025”, TotalEnergies said.

In Kampala, however, the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) said “the drilling of development wells” began on June 28.

Over 400 wells “are expected to be drilled… to produce about 190,000 barrels of oil per day at peak when production starts in 2025,” the PAU said in a statement to AFP.

“Three rigs have been lined up for drilling operations,” said Alex Nyombi, PAU’s director of development and production.

“We currently have one rig up and running… the second rig is undergoing final test and checks… while the third rig components are being assembled and is expected to start operations in October 2023,” he said.

“The rigs in Uganda are designed to minimise the environmental footprint by adding sustainable technologies and practices and ensuring responsible resource extraction for future generations,” PAU’s legal and corporate affairs director, Ali Ssekatawa, said in a separate statement to AFP.

 ‘Greenwashing’ 
But Friends of the Earth France and Survive said the drilling was underway “in the very heart of the Murchison Falls national park, Uganda’s oldest and biggest protected natural space.”

“Total continues its greenwashing, trying to convince that its oil wells will not affect the local fauna thanks to the beige colour of the drilling towers ‘to look like the surrounding savannah’,” the two groups said in a statement.

They noted that one third of the 400 wells due to be bored will be within the park.

“While the ravages of climate change are being felt more than ever, Total is going beyond all imaginable limits by starting oil extraction in one of the places with the greatest biodiversity in the world,” said Friends of the Earth’s Juliette Renaud.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the project will have dire consequences for local communities and the environment.

The pipeline is “a disaster for the tens of thousands who have lost the land that provided food for their families and an income to send their children to school, and who received too little compensation from TotalEnergies,” HRW said.

The company said it had offered fair compensation and would “continue to pay close attention to respecting the rights” of the communities concerned.

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