April 8, 2021

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline – EACOP a spatial risk perspective

 6.5 billion barrels of oil, of which at least 1.7 billion are projected to be recoverable have been discovered in the Albertine Graben on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A planned 1,443 km long heated pipeline would transport oil from the Tilenga and Kingfisher fields on the shores of Lake Albert in Uganda, to the port of Tanga in on the Indian Ocean coast in Tanzania. The oil fields in Uganda consisting of more than 400 oil wells would be operated by China National Offshore Oil Corporation Ltd (CNOOC Ltd), and TotalEnergies of France. The development would also include several processing facilities, and a refinery. 

The planned East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project and its associated infrastructure is bound to trigger a large suite of environmental social and human rights issues and risks non-compliance with several global and regional agreements as well as net-zero-emission targets set by the countries involved. With this project, various international commitments made are put in jeopardy, including the Paris Climate Agreement, the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and the Ramsar Wetland Convention.

This map story aims to provide a general summary of the potential environmental impacts and risks that this project could pose to local communities. To illustrate these broad ranging impacts, we performed a spatial overlay of the planned pipeline trajectory and:

  • biodiversity and conservation
  • water resources
  • communities
  • seismic zones

Carbon Lock-in 

A primary issue with this project and any planned future fossil fuel development is the lock-in to additional emissions which the planet cannot tolerate. Development of this oil resource is projected result in emission of least 33 million tonnes of carbondioxide per year, amounting to over thirty times the current annual emissions of Uganda and Tanzania combined. The project itself will require large amounts of energy to heat the pipeline and transport the oil, while additional emissions due to land use change and associated deforestation are likely. Besides its significant contribution to the global climate crisis, the EACOP project would open a new frontier of high-risk development in neighboring areas. 

Biodiversity and conservation risks

This ecologically unique region encompasses two major biodiversity hotspots, seven globally important ecoregions and at least sixteen protected areas of which many are classified as Key Biodiversity Areas. The impacts and risks to biodiversity can split into direct risks of habitat and biodiversity loss as well as indirect risks, primarily posed by potential pipeline and extraction site oil spills.  The map on the right identifies areas with high importance in terms of global biodiversity and areas recognized as priority conservation targets in prior commitments by both Uganda and Tanzania under the Convention of Biodiversity (CBD) and other conservation mechanisms. The potential loss of forest due to the EACOP is particularly problematic considering Uganda is losing over 70k ha of tree cover and 4k ha of primary forest per year. Nearly 2,000 square km of protected wildlife habitats could be negatively impacted by the EACOP project.

Murchison Falls (source wikimedia)

From the Tilenga and Kingfisher oil fields in Uganda, the pipeline corridor is currently planned to traverse seven forest reserves, two game reserves, two game-controlled areas and one open area that supports wildlife management, covering a total length of 295 km of conserved and protected lands (UNEP-WCMC/IUCN, 2020). Between 10% and 20% of the remaining chimpanzee population (650 individuals) could be affected by the project through direct and indirect impacts to the Budongo Forest Reserve (IUCN, 2020).

In Tanzania, the planned pipeline would run through various protected areas and forest reserves including 32 km of the Wembere Steppe, a Key Biodiversity Area (IUCN, 2016). These areas host a diversity of animals such as lions, buffalo, elands, lesser kudu, impalas, hippos, giraffes, zebras, roan antelopes, sitatungas, sables, aardvarks, and the red colobus monkey as well as areas critical to bird migration and wintering (IUCN, 2020). 

Along the Tanzanian shore, two important Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs), the Pemba-Shimoni-Kisite site the Tanga Coelacanth site and Zanzibar Island are at high risk given the huge amount of oil to be transferred offshore at the Tanga Port. These EBSAs host several Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as well as Mangrove Forest Reserves, and coral reefs and waters with dugongs and sea turtles.

Oil extraction would take place within the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Ramsar wetland system, which plays an important role for wildlife in the National Park and is a spawning ground for endemic fish species. Two Ramsar sites are directly downstream on the planned pipeline trajectory, which crosses multiple tributaries to these wetlands (see map below and Water resource risk section).


Water resource risks

The main oil extraction sites and the planned pipeline are situated in the headwaters of Africa’s main basins of the Nile and Congo rivers. Conveyance of potentials spills into waterways (lakes, rivers and streams) is thought to significantly widen the sphere of risk of this project to communities and ecosystems hundreds of kilometers away. Water resource risks associated with oil and gas extraction water can generally be split into: a) quantity/water footprint impacts – consumptive water use for injection and processing and; b) water quality impacts – short term and long-term legacy contamination of water on site and downstream of drilling sites and the pipeline. 

The location of the planned operations on the shore of Lake Albert  as well as the pipeline trajectory along Lake Victoria (460 km) is particularly concerning given the implications to food and water security, freshwater biodiversity and impacts on Ramsar wetlands of global importance.

Water resource impacts are multi-dimensional as they affect freshwater and terrestrial habitats, biodiversity, food security (fisheries and agriculture) and water for human consumption. The consumptive water requirements for preparation and operations of the pipeline as well as wastewater contribute to a significant potential water footprint of this project which is hardly evaluated to date, and which could be a major source of future conflict with surrounding communities. 

As previous oil spill disasters around the world have illustrated, they can be propagated over large distances by rivers and streams as well as infiltrate aquifers and contaminate water resources for decades to centuries. The map on the right indicates in red all water bodies downstream of the planned pipeline trajectory. This illustrates that that the sphere of risk extends well beyond the extraction site and pipeline trajectory.

Community Risks

It is estimated that over 1 million people in the Murchison landscape directly and indirectly depend on fishing and water for domestic use based on the Murchison Falls ecosystems. Lake Albert sustains an estimated 30% of Uganda’s fisheries. An estimated 40 million people depend on the water and food resources of Lake Victoria and would be exposed to the pipeline risk through potential oil spills. The planned project passes through various more densely populated areas, especially in Uganda and areas dependent on subsistence agriculture.

Over the past 20 years East Africa has experienced strong population growth which is projected to continue in coming decades. Besides the pollution risks, large scale land acquisition and resettlement would be needed for pipeline construction and associated infrastructure and a range of concerns related to human rights violations have been raised (Oxfam, 2020).

Seismic Risks

The risks of spills from the pipeline are significantly exacerbated by the fact that its planned trajectory crosses the Rift Valley, one of the geologically most active regions of the world.  

Records of the region’s vulnerability to earthquakes date back to 1897 (UN, 2005). The map on the right illustrates the locations of major fault lines and observed seismic events in the past 20 years. Over 300 events with a magnitude greater than 4.5 on the scale of Richter were registered. 

In 1966 (I) the most destructive earthquake in recent African history struck with a magnitude of 6.8 (I) causing at least 140 deaths and widespread damage in the area South of Lake Albert in Uganda, the DRC and Tanzania. In 2016 (II) a magnitude 5.9 earthquake caused at least 19 deaths and widespread damage. In 2020 (III) a magnitude 6.0 earthquake shook Dar es Salaam (USGS,2020). 

The region surrounding the port of Tanga in Tanzania is thought to be at a particular risk of tsunamis and historic evidence of catastrophic events has been documented. 

Other recent events around the globe have illustrated the clear and present risk that earthquakes pose to oil pipelines.  


  • UN, 2005. United Nations Directorate of Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees: Uganda National Report and Information on Disaster Risk Reduction Efforts for the World Conference on Disaster Reduction. Kobe-Hyogo, Japan, 2005.
  • IUCN, 2016. A Global Standard for the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas, Version 1.0. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland
  • IUCN, 2020. IUCN 2020. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2020-2.
  • Oxfam, 2020. Empty Promises Down the Line? A Human Rights Impact Assessment of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Oxfam Research Paper
  • UNEP-WCMC/IUCN, 2020. World Database Protected Areas
  • USGS, 2020.