World News

French court dismisses NGOs’ case against controversial TotalEnergies projects in east Africa


A French court ruled on Tuesday to dismiss a landmark lawsuit against oil major TotalEnergies alleging it failed to protect people and the environment as it worked on oil projects in Uganda and Tanzania. The world’s longest thermal oil pipeline will pass through forest reserves and amusement parks before running along Lake Victoria, a source of fresh water for 40 million people.

The case, brought by six French and Ugandan activist groups in 2018, accused the French company of failing to do what it could to protect people and the local environment during the development of the Tilenga oil project and the East African crude pipeline.

NGOs argue pipeline projects failed to complyduty of care law“, a 2017 French law that compels large companies to avoid serious harm to human rights, health, safety and the environment.

The court ruled the case “inadmissible”, saying the plaintiffs had not properly followed court procedures against the French energy giant.

Construction is due to start this year on the 897-mile (1,443-km) East Africa crude oil pipeline planned by TotalEnergies and CNOOC, which will run between Uganda and the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in Tanzania. Authorities have described it as the longest hot oil pipeline in the world.

Uganda is estimated to have recoverable oil reserves of at least 1.4 billion barrels.

Some wells will be drilled in Murchison Falls National Park in western Uganda, where the Nile has plunged 130 feet (40 meters) from a gap just 20 feet (6 meters) wide. The surrounding wilderness is home to hippos, egrets, giraffes and antelope. The pipeline will then run through seven forest reserves and two game parks, along Lake Victoria, a source of fresh water for 40 million people.

Ecological fragility is one reason some activists oppose the project, despite TotalEnergies assurances that the pipeline’s state-of-the-art design will ensure decades of safety.

Ugandan authorities see oil drilling projects and pipelines as key to economic development, saying oil wealth could lift millions out of poverty. Some even saw the international condemnation of the pipeline as a violation of national sovereignty.

President Yoweri Museveni vowed in September that the project would go ahead with or without TotalEnergies. He said Uganda would “find someone else to cooperate” if necessary.

At the time, EU lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution urging the international community to “exert maximum pressure on Ugandan and Tanzanian authorities, as well as project sponsors and stakeholders” to halt oil projects in the region.

Citing human rights concerns, the resolution focuses on fair compensation for affected communities and concerns about the environment.

Activist groups have echoed the same concerns, saying the company’s oil drilling and pipeline projects have adversely affected the lands of some 118,000 people in Uganda and Tanzania. Tens of thousands of people are still waiting for compensation, they said.

Activist groups are asking a court to order TotalEnergies to stop projects in East Africa under a 2017 French law that holds large companies accountable for environmental and human rights risks.

But the court rejected that request, saying only a judge who has reviewed the case in depth can assess whether the allegations against TotalEnergies have merit before conducting an audit of operations on the ground.

(Reuters, Agence France-Presse on the 24th, France)

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