By Catherine Bekunda
The Government recently signed a memorandum of understanding with licensed oil companies on sustainable development of Uganda’s discovered petroleum resources in the Albertine Graben.
This is a milestone for Uganda’s petroleum sector as it defines the roadmap for utilising the discovered petroleum resources to further economic growth and development.
World over energy is a key driver for economic development. Therefore, a country with access to cheaper energy resources has the advantage of developing their economy faster.
Uganda has depended on imported petroleum products for many years spending about $2b annually. The country is, therefore, on a steady path of transformation when it starts utilising its own crude oil.
This will lead to improved balance of payments as a result of reduction in foreign exchange that has been leaving the country through importation of petroleum products.
Uganda’s external vulnerability to global or local financial shocks will also be limited.
Much as petroleum products will have to be paid for and not be distributed for free as some Ugandans expect, the country will achieve secure supply, reduced transport costs and risks which will boost improved planning and investment by local and foreign businesses/ players.
The Government expects significant revenues when commercial oil production commences and emphasis is on exploiting the intersectoral benefits this sector can bring.
The Oil and Gas Revenue Management Policy developed by the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development provides for using revenue from oil to further investment in infrastructure such as transport, energy, information communication technology, agriculture, tourism and other productive sectors of the economy.
Modernised agricultural sector requires heavy capital investment (finances) and also power from petroleum products.
Improved agriculture not only ensures food security, increased income to Uganda’s farmers through export and serving the domestic market but also guarantees employment to majority of the unemployed Ugandans through establishment of agro-processing plants.
This interdependency between the petroleum and agriculture sectors must be exploited and used for the benefit of all Ugandans.
To ensure sustainable use of the petroleum resources, the Government will save and invest petroleum revenue in order to achieve development in the long term. This is clearly embedded in the Oil and Gas Revenue Management policy.
A special fund will be set up in the Central Bank with the main objective as financing the national budget as well as saving for future generations.
This arrangement takes into consideration the key issues of sustainable development whereby current generations are availed their key needs without compromising the ability to meet future generation’s demands.
The more reason to appreciate the Government’s foresight of investing in key infrastructure is that it has potential to meet both current and future needs of Ugandans.
Focus must also be on proper environmental management to ensure that oil exploitation is done without compromising the environment and biodiversity on which our economy is premised.
The Ugandan government and oil companies have ensured that any possible negative impacts of operations on the natural environment are mitigated.
Although footprints cannot be completely eliminated in operation areas, emphasis has been on applying best international principles and modern technologies.
For instance Total E&P which operates in Exploration Area 1 and 1A mainly in the Murchison Falls National Park adopted the cable-less seismic data acquisition system.
Instead of deploying hundreds of metres of cables across the park, which would have been an eyesore to the tourists and a danger to animals in case of ingestion, Total is employing the ZLand system.
This system requires that nodes or cylinder like gadgets are placed below the ground and covered with a few centimetres of soil in order to hide them from animals. They are easy to put in place, allowing a minimum cutting of the vegetation and a minimum disturbance to the wildlife. These nodes are removed after use.
In addition, the Government developed a sensitivity atlas for the Albertine Graben mapping out sensitive areas like those from where animals and fish reproduce, the Delta point and water points within the park among others. This provides benchmarks for monitoring and guidance for operations.
Directional drilling has also been tested and is under planning to tap resources in such areas. This minimises the human footprint and ensures that such areas are maintained in their natural form.
Ugandans should therefore work to support the development of the country’s oil and gas resources which will provide an opportunity to fast‐track the economic and social transformation process of our country.
The writer is the communications officer of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development