Thu, Jul 18 2024 18 July, 2024

Tanzania-Uganda gas pipeline raises environmental concerns

The planned new Tanzania-Uganda gas pipeline is set to boost energy security and the economy, but raises environmental concerns and potentially delays renewable investments.

An aerial view of Mikindani in southern Tanzania (Photo: Adobe Stock/STORYTELLER)

Tanzania and Uganda signed a bilateral agreement last November to construct the Tanzania-Uganda gas pipeline to boost both countries’ energy security and economic growth.

The pipeline will transport natural gas from Tanzania’s southern regions to Uganda, where it will power factories and generate electricity. It is also expected to create jobs and foreign direct investment.

Tanzania is nearly exploring 50 trillion cubic feet of gas, which is more than enough to power the entire country and supply more to neighbouring countries. In Uganda, TotalEnergies and CNOOC intend to develop gas facilities. Uganda has an estimated 500 billion cubic feet of gas.

In a recent development, a new route for the proposed gas pipeline from Tanzania to Uganda has been agreed upon for economic reasons, a departure from the earlier suggestion of laying the pipes parallel to the East African Crude Oil pipeline.

Uganda’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa, said both countries agreed to lay the gas pipes closer to communities to ease access to the product.

The minister said that the two countries recently instituted two committees – steering and technical – and assigned them to start on the feasibility study. The study will inform how much gas needs to be piped to Uganda.

Previous proposals had suggested that since nearly all the land for the 1,443 km East African crude oil pipeline had been acquired, it would only make sense if the gas pipes were laid side by side in the same corridor.

Sammy Jamar, an energy analyst at Stears, an African market intelligence company, told Gas Outlook that the Tanzania-Uganda gas pipeline project is expected to boost energy security and economic growth in both countries and generate several jobs directly and indirectly.

He said large-scale infrastructure projects like this often attract substantial foreign direct investment. “This influx of capital can not only fund the project itself but also spill over into other sectors of the economy, promoting growth and development. Furthermore, the project can facilitate the transfer of technology and knowledge from international partners to local stakeholders.”

However, experts have also raised concerns about the project’s environmental implications and warned that it might impede renewable energy investment, making it harder to meet carbon neutrality goals.

Environmental concerns

Amos Wemanya, Senior Advisor in Renewable Energy and Just Transitions at the think-tank Power Shift Africa, told Gas Outlook that gas emissions or leaks of methane are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. He said gas development will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions, worsening the climate crisis already threatening both countries and many African communities.

The “development and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure such as gas pipelines present direct threats to ecosystems and biodiversity. Developing gas infrastructure will create risks to biodiversity, protected areas, communities and water resources,” Wemanya said.

“The networks of infrastructure enabling exploration, extraction, transportation and combustion of gas including mines, wells, and pipelines degrade ecosystems and cause direct and immediate harm to local communities,” he added.

Abdulaziz Bakari, a climate change consultant in Tanzania, alluded to the gas pipeline project’s potential environmental impacts on ecosystems, people, and local wildlife. These impacts include habitat destruction during construction, disturbance to sensitive ecosystems, water and soil pollution, and the release of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Additionally, the project disrupts wildlife migration patterns and pose risks to endangered species in the area,” Bakari said.

In addition, there are concerns about the rights of the residents who will be displaced and the potential for scant compensations, he added.

Impeding renewable energy investment

Wemanya also raised concerns that developing gas in Tanzania and Uganda would mean developing an extensive fossil gas sector from scratch, which would involve significant investments in infrastructure development.

He said these huge infrastructural investments would lock away investment that would go into the development of renewable energy systems that are cheap, easily deployable, and accessible.

“Also, investing in such large-scale infrastructural projects will lock both countries into the gas sector for the coming decades and reduce available public and private finance for cleaner, more job-creating, livelihood-enhancing, and well-being-fostering renewable energy projects,” he said,

In addition, he said developing centralised energy infrastructure risks further consolidating energy systems for consumption by urban populations, economic elites, and polluting industries while undermining the potential to develop modern and decentralised, people-centred energy systems that are socially-owned and community-based.

“Both Tanzania and Uganda have abundant renewable energy resources that would instead provide reliable and accessible energy for especially rural populations that lack access to electricity and modern energy services,” the consultant said.

“Fossil fuels are the main driver of the climate crisis, whose impacts are already affecting most African communities and hindering their rights to health, food, water, housing, work and life. Continued investments in fossil infrastructure such as gas pipelines means increased human rights harms,” he warned.

Impact on energy transition

Bakari also noted that the gas pipeline project has implications for both countries’ energy transition plans. He said that, on one hand, it provides a temporary boost to the energy supply and helps meet increasing energy demands. However, promoting fossil fuel dependency also hinders the transition to cleaner and renewable energy sources.

“Other benefits of the project include job creation, economic growth, and increased energy security. On the other hand, cons involve potential conflicts over land rights, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and the perpetuation of reliance on finite fossil fuel resources.

“It is important to conduct thorough environmental impact assessments, involving stakeholders and experts, to minimise and mitigate the potential negative impacts of the gas pipeline project. Additionally, considering the long-term implications on energy transition, exploring sustainable alternatives is crucial for achieving environmental and climate goals,” he suggested.