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Uganda: French, Chinese Oil Companies Sign Deal to Develop Oil Reserves Under Lake Albert

French and Chinese oil companies signed a ten-billion-dollar deal on Tuesday to develop oil resources under Lake Albert in Uganda and build a pipeline to bring the oil though Tanzania. The plan is being criticised by environmental groups, who warn the pipeline will be devastating for wildlife and people along its route.

The deal between France's TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation aims to exploit huge crude oil reserves under Lake Albert, on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"This milestone puts us on the path to first oil in 2025," Uganda's Minister of Energy and Mineral Development Ruth Nankabirwa Ssentamu said in a speech ahead of the signing.

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Uganda discovered the reserves in 2006, but production has been delayed by disagreements between the government and oil companies over tax and development strategy, and a lack of infrastructure.

The government finally agreed to the project with Total and CNOOC in December.

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Government geologists estimate that 1.4 billion barrels are recoverable of the 6.5 billion barrels in the ground.

The Lake Albert development project will involve creating oil fields, processing facilities and a pipeline network in Uganda, plus a 1,400-kilometre heated pipeline through Tanzania to export the oil to the port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean.

The chairman and CEO of TotalEnergies (formerly Total), Patrick Pouyanné, described the East African Crude Oil Pipe Line (EACOP) as a "the masterpiece of the project", although critics charge that it threatens livelihoods and fragile ecosystems along its path.

'Devastating' effects

Conservation groups and environmental activists have been protesting the project, and say the drilling and pipelines, located in several natural reserves, will have a negative impact.

The project "will be devastating for our communities, for wildlife and for the planet", campaign group 350Africa.org's regional director Landry Ninteretse said in a statement.

The pipeline will be "displacing thousands of households, endangering water resources for millions of Ugandans and Tanzanians, devastating vulnerable ecosystems and pushing the world further into climate chaos," added the group's France campaigner, Isabelle l'Héritier

A group of Ugandan and French NGOs filed a lawsuit in 2019 against Total accusing the company of failing to meet its legal obligations to protect the environment and the rights of the people affected by the project.

The company said last year it had taken steps to reduce the project's impact on people and the environment

In December, France's highest court, the Court of Cassation, ruled that the case should be heard in a civil court rather than assigned to a commercial tribunal, in what the activists said was an important victory.

(with wires)

Artmotion S.Africa

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