Les Amis de la Terre saisissent la justice
In 2006, large oil reserves were discovered in the heart of Murchison Falls, a protected natural park in Uganda. Total, along with other British and Chinese petroleum companies (Tullow and CNOOC Limited) are all set to develop a project of colossal magnitude.
Total will drill more than 400 wells, enabling the extraction of around 200 000 barrels of oil per day. Worse still, a 1445 km long giant pipeline will be built to transport the oil, impacting regions in Uganda as well as in Tanzania.
In all, 10 billion dollars have been invested into this disproportionate oil project.
However, some civil society mobilisation has already been successful: in the very same Great Lakes region, Total has given up oil drilling in the Virunga natural park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is unacceptable that the same transnational corporation launches a similar project at the same time in Uganda, just on the other side of the border.
Even before the site becomes operational, the impact on local populations is already far-reaching.
What does this oil megaproject really consist of?
1. The "Tilenga" project, operated by Total:
- Development of 6 oil fields: 419 wells would be dug on 34 well pads, mainly inside the Murchison Falls natural park, allowing for production of 200 000 barrels per day;
- Construction of an industrial area including a central processing plant (“CPF") on the outskirts of the park in Buliisa district.
2. A refinery and an airport built by the Ugandan government.
3. A mega-pipeline (East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline or “EACOP”), built together by French multinational Total, British-owned Tullow, Chinese CNOOC and the Tanzanian and Ugandan governments, spanning 1445 km from the refinery to the port of Tanga in Tanzania.
4. Other related infrastructures built by Total, its partners and the government, primarily:
- A water abstraction system to use Lake Albert's water to meet the needs of the oil wells;
- A combined network of 180 km of pipelines, even passing under the Nile, to transport either oil and gas, or water;
- Oil waste management, storage and treatment facilities;
- New roads to facilitate the growth of the oil industry.
Tens of thousands of people are at risk because of the construction and development of these oil projects and their related infrastructures.
In Uganda, according to collected testimonies:
- Families are being intimidated and forced to abandon their lands, thereby completely disrupting their way of life.
- Certain local communities have already lost the right to cultivate their lands since the process of land grabbing has already begun, leaving entire families with no livelihood. They have no means to buy food and can no longer benefit from their harvests.
- Amongst those who have already been evicted, some are still waiting for a new place to live. Those who have received compensation are fiercely contesting the amount, saying that it is not enough to buy land of equivalent value.
- Children have to drop out of school as parents can no longer afford to pay the fees.
Local communities depend primarily on agriculture and fishing for their livelihood, sectors which are directly threatened by this megaproject. If no action is taken, thousands of lives will be destroyed with complete impunity.
This megaproject is being developed in the heart of a natural protected area which harbours outstanding ecosystems.
It is a sanctuary for fragile biodiversity and home to more than 500 animal species, some of which are endangered: lions, elephants, hippopotamuses, giraffes, warthogs, as well as numerous species of bird.
Furthermore, Lake Albert, one of the Nile's sources, falls in the very zone where Total plans to drill for oil. The contamination of the river Nile (which is one of the two longest rivers in the world) could have drastic consequences for its fauna and for the local communities who depend on fishing for their livelihood.
And the climate?
Limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5° is indispensable for the survival of humanity and of our planet. This type of oil project is not only a direct threat to the environment but also contributes greatly to climate disruption leading us straight towards disaster. Each tenth of a degree matters. We must stop this project from going ahead if we want to prevent climate chaos.
Total is the successor of Elf, a former French public oil company that was bought out by Total despite being mired in corruption scandals and having executives who had been convicted in court.
Today, the growing belief is that the influence of French companies in Africa is reducing, to make way for capital from other countries, in particular China. However, business seems good for Total, not only in its private reserve of former French colonies but more and more outside too, including in authoritarian states like Uganda. Total is the main operator of this oil megaproject in an English-speaking country.
And law enforcement?
By merging with Elf, Total not only acquired the former's market shares but also gained a powerful influencing tool. Total knows how to bend the rules, with the obliging help of dictators and leaders.
For many years, Friends of the Earth France has been actively involved in dismantling the power of transnational corporations and has been at the heart of the fight for adoption of the French corporate duty of vigilance law, passed finally in 2017. Survie supported this legislative battle, paving the way for a new type of legal proceedings, and joins forces with Friends of the Earth France to condemn one of the French corporations responsible for the plunder of Africa's natural resources.
Total is one of the 25 biggest transnational corporations in the world and, thanks to its business being divided into thousands of subsidiaries, franchises and subcontractors, it has rarely faced legal sanctions.
The new French law challenges this very system: finally, parent companies of transnational corporations can be held responsible for human rights abuses or any environmental degradation caused by their activities, in France or abroad.
For many months, we have been investigating the situation on the ground to shed light on the violations committed by Total in connection with this new oil project in Uganda.
We have thus collected documents and testimonies which point to Total's responsibility. The evidence is piling up.
With this specific case, we would like to ensure the correct implementation of this new law. It allows us to seek justice before any damage is done, to prevent Total from putting at considerable risk or causing irreversible damage to local communities, biodiversity, environment and climate. And above all, if the violations are proven in court, this law enables us to oblige the company to repair the damage done and to pay compensation to the affected communities.
Total is a very powerful transnational corporation. Their considerable financial resources may make this legal battle stretch over many years. They will try everything to make us give up. Which is why your support is indispensable. Citizen power can help us face Total and see justice done.
The stages of the procedure:
- 24 June 2019: We served a formal notice to Total, pointing out their failure to comply with the corporate duty of vigilance law. Total has three months to reply and to meet its obligations: develop, publish and most importantly effectively implement these measures in order to prevent environmental and human rights abuses in their project in Uganda.
- If at the end of three months the transnational corporation has not responded or taken satisfactory action, we can request the judge to force them to meet their obligations, if necessary under financial penalties.