French court to rule on TotalEnergies' east Africa projects

A Paris court is set to rule on a case pitting French and Ugandan environmentalist groups against oil giant TotalEnergies regarding a major oil field and pipeline projects in east Africa

Sylvie Corbet
Tuesday 28 February 2023 11:43 GMT
France Uganda TotalEnergies
France Uganda TotalEnergies

A Paris court is set to rule Tuesday on a case in which French and Ugandan environmentalist groups accuse energy company TotalEnergies of failing to prevent human rights violations and risks to the environment in connection with major oil field and pipeline projects in east Africa.

In a 2018 lawsuit, six French and Ugandan activist groups said the company's oil extraction and pipeline projects are completely or partially adversely impacting the lands of approximately 118,000 people in Uganda and Tanzania. They said tens of thousands are still waiting compensation.

They have asked the court to order the company to comply with the law by implementing measures against "all the risks of serious harm” associated with the projects, including immediate payment of compensation and food support for communities.

TotalEnergies has argued that its planning “has been implemented effectively" and that its Ugandan and Tanzanian affiliates "have applied the appropriate action plans to respect the rights of local communities and ensure respect for biodiversity.”

The company said about 8,500 households are affected in Uganda, most of which have received their compensation. It added that most of about 9,500 households have signed a compensation agreement in Tanzania, were the project is less advanced.

Tuesday's ruling will be the first to be based on 2017 “duty of vigilance” legislation that makes big companies liable for risks to human rights and the environment, even if any infractions are committed by foreign affiliates and subcontractors.

Oil drilling has recently begun in Uganda in a field operated by China National Offshore Oil Corporation, CNOOC, as part of the joint deal with TotalEnergies. Production is expected to start by 2025. Both groups said last year said that the total investment would be more than $10 billion.

Construction is to start this year on the 897-mile (1,443-kilometer) East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, planned by TotalEnergies and CNOOC, between Uganda and the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in Tanzania. Authorities have described it as the world’s longest heated oil pipeline.

Uganda is estimated to have recoverable oil reserves of at least 1.4 billion barrels. The country's authorities see the oil drilling project and the pipeline as key to economic development.

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