Serengeti Watch outlines environmental risks of new oil pipeline

Daily Monitor

In an era of climate change, biodiversity loss, and wilderness destruction, the last thing the world needs is another massive oil pipeline. Yet that’s what we’re getting in East Africa. The pipeline won’t cross the Serengeti, but it will have impacts that can spill over, and it sets another dangerous precedent. Learn more about this below, and watch for future installments on issues of water and gold.

And please help.



The $3.5 billion pipeline will stretch from Uganda for 900 miles through farmland, protected areas, wildlife habitat, across rivers, and around Africa’s largest lake to the Indian Ocean.
This map shows the pipeline, known as EACOP, with yellow lines indicating conservation areas at risk. courtesy: Stockholm Environment Institute

Serengeti Watch first reported on the pipeline five years ago. The map shows possible routes at that time. One was through northern Kenya exiting at Lamu, a World Heritage Site on the Indian Ocean. That plan was dropped when investors decided it was too close to Somalia and risked sabotage.

After that, the fear was that the pipeline might pass right through the Serengeti. In fact, one recent article says, incorrectly, it will do just that. But, as a government official replied to Serengeti Watch in 2015, it will follow a southern route below the park.

Last month, Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan met with Uganda’s President Museveni and sealed the agreement with Total Oil, a French company, and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

French and Chinese companies will produce up to 230,000 barrels a day. Though relatively inexpensive to extract, the oil is viscous and will require building the longest heated pipeline in the world.

Threats to the Serengeti

At the outset, direct impacts on the Serengeti will be minimal. However, there is a real risk the project will spread. The map shows oil prospecting zones in Tanzania, some near the Serengeti.

As we reported in 2016, aerial surveys for oil and natural gas were taking place around Lakes Eyasi and Natron in Ngorongoro District, which borders the Serengeti. This area is said to be geologically similar to that of Uganda’s oil fields. It lies just north of the proposed pipeline, and a government minister has stated that “If we strike oil in those areas, we will use the same pipeline to transport the resource,"

Social & Economic Impacts

There is no doubt, East Africa badly needs energy to develop. But this project will not supply the regional power grid. It is simply for export, sold on the world market in a time of declining oil prices. Proponents say the pipeline will bring income and jobs. And it will. But for whom and for how long, and with what cost to families who are in the way?

The Executive President of the African Energy Chamber, NY Ayuk, argues that the benefits far outweigh the risks. He says “people will reap the rewards of the social welfare and infrastructure development,” with tens of thousands of jobs created and indirect spinoffs to businesses. He does concede, many of these jobs will go away when the pipeline is finished.

On the other side of the ledger, tens of thousands of people will be displaced or lose land. Two-thirds of the pipeline will pass through farmland. Around 14,000 households will be affected.

A report coproduced by Oxfam and other rights-based organizations concludes,

  • “Like all large-scale infrastructure projects, the construction and operation of the EACOP is likely to affect human rights of the communities where the project is situated.”

An article in Yale Environment 360, published by the Yale School of the Environment says,

  • “The signs are not good. In Uganda, 7,000 people from 13 villages have already lost land. Many of those expelled now live in concrete houses in a resettlement village…Others claim they were cheated of cash compensation by local contractors who fabricated land valuations, failed to document all their buildings, and required them to fill out valuation forms in pencil.”

A court case was filed against Total Oil in France, but the company argued that it is not responsible for the actions of its agents. The court agreed.

Environmental Impacts

“Imagine a tropical version of the Alaskan oil pipeline. Only longer. And passing through critical elephant, lion, and chimpanzee habitats and 12 forest reserves, skirting Africa’s largest lake, and crossing more than 200 rivers and thousands of farms before reaching the Indian Ocean.." — Mongabay

The destruction of wildlife habitat and the risk to fresh water cannot be separated from the social impacts. They’re all linked, but Yale 360 lists specific environmental threats:

  • On a global scale, the oil fields and pipeline will have a carbon footprint equivalent to the country of Denmark.
  • On a regional level, it will risk 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of protected areas: wildlife, water, habitat, and marine ecosystems. Of special concern, the pipeline rounds Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River. It is an area of high seismic activity.
  • In Uganda. Thirty-two wells will impact Lake Albert and Murchison Falls National Park, with populations of elephants, lions, Nile crocodiles, and over 400 bird species. Development will include Bugoma Forest and Taala Forest Reserves – both have populations of chimpanzees.
  • In Tanzania. The pipeline will bisect the Biharamulo game reserve, which contains one of the world’s last five populations of ashy red colobus monkeys, as well as hippopotami, elephants, zebras and, tour companies claim, mountain gorillas.
  • The Wembere Steppe is a seasonally flooded grassland known for its birdlife. Outside the reserves, 510 square kilometers of elephant habitat is likely to be disrupted.
  • The port of Tanga has two marine protected areas. At risk are coral reefs, dugongs, dolphins, and sea turtles. And the coelacanth, an ancient fish thought to be extinct, until it was discovered in 1936.


An international protest has been mounted to stop the pipeline. You can join it here. It states:

  • "Not only will EACOP devastate communities, endanger wildlife and cook the planet, but it is economically reckless."
  • “Investing in renewable energy, tourism, small-scale agriculture, fishing and reforestation programs will provide far more jobs to local communities, a wider range of economic benefits for East Africa and a cleaner environment which will benefit the whole world.”

Many banks have already declined to participate. According to an article in Mongabay, groups are trying to block funding by lobbying investors, banks and insurance companies. Two of Total’s key financiers, Barclays and Credit Suisse, say they will not fund the pipeline.

The protest also includes 38 regional organizations in Kenya and Uganda, who signed a letter saying that environmental concerns have not been addressed.

However, as the IUCN pointed out, protest can be dangerous. Groups face criminalization, and “environmental and human rights defenders are also being targeted and harassed as individuals.”

Where from here?

It may be too late to stop the pipeline. Agreements have been signed. But we may be able to mitigate impacts by demanding accountability and justice.

Some point out that the West has already had its turn at development. Why should this constrain developing economies? But how will this really benefit average citizens, what does this mean for conservation, and what better opportunities will go unrealized?

We need development that learns from past mistakes, creates opportunities for local people, does not exacerbate climate change, and protects fragile ecosystems and wildlife. A big challenge. But it can be done.

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