The Environmental Impact of Oil and Gas Exploration in Uganda

In Uganda, the 1985 Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act was enacted to make provisions for the regulation of the exploration and production of petroleum. The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) is responsible for the day-to-day monitoring and supervision of the petroleum industry. The National Environment (Oil Spill Prevention, Preparedness, and Response) Regulation of 2020 also sees to the prevention and addressing of oil spills in Uganda.

Beaming with life and beauty, Uganda is the only landlocked country in East Africa with a diversified landscape. The beautiful snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains and the famous Lake Victoria adorn its scenery. Its pride is an abundance of wildlife that has been preserved naturally. Rare birds, hippos, chimpanzees, a mountain gorilla sanctuary in the remote Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and waterfalls such as Murchison Falls National Park are some of the features embellished in this landlocked country. Uganda is a sight to behold in Africa, and its beauty should be preserved at all costs.

The Pearl of Africa

The former two-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, called Uganda the Pearl of Africa in his 1908 book “My African Journey.” Sir Winston was amazed at the rare birds, life, reptiles, colour, insects, mammals, beasts, and vegetation in this part of Africa; he couldn’t get his mind past the abundant wildlife, beauty, and diversity, thus bestowing upon the country the nickname.

Uganda is endowed with the largest freshwater lake on the African continent; it houses the source of the longest river in the world, the Nile; the strongest waterfall is in its abode; and it also has the highest number of primates and the highest number of mountain gorillas on the planet. Highly impressive waterfalls, mighty rivers, vast lakes, and magnificently high mountains can be found in this East African beauty. The western branch of the East African Rift, the Albertine Rift, which is very rich in biodiversity, can also be found in Uganda.

A Home for Farmers

Agriculture is a common practise in Uganda. Small farmholders engage in subsistence agriculture, while large farms produce food crops and livestock for commercial purposes. According to the International Trade Administration (ITA), Uganda produces a wide range of agricultural products, which include tea, coffee, livestock, bananas, cereals, sugar, cotton, organic cotton, nuts, sweet potatoes, oil seed crops (such as sesame, soybean, and sunflower), cassava, beans, edible oils, fish, groundnuts, sorghum, and millet. The export of agricultural produce is also a big business in Uganda. According to Britinnaca, agriculture accounts for a large portion of Uganda’s export earnings and its gross domestic product (GDP). It provides the main source of income for the vast majority of the country’s adult population. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the agricultural sector is the mainstay of Uganda’s economy and the main source of livelihood for over 60% of its population. According to Uganda Invest, in 2020, the agricultural sector will continue to be the most important sector in Uganda’s economy, employing approximately 72% of the population and contributing 32% to the GDP. The Ugandan Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) estimates that, as of 2020, approximately 7.4 million households operate agricultural land and rear livestock. Within these agricultural households, 81.2 percent of the adult members are reported to be mainly engaged in agricultural activities.

However, agricultural productivity in Uganda is hampered by an over-reliance on natural weather patterns as well as the widespread use of traditional methods and crude implements. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Uganda’s fertile agricultural land has the potential to feed over 200 million people. About 80% of Uganda’s land is arable, but only 35% is being cultivated for agricultural use. This sector will account for 33% of export earnings in 2022. The commercialization of the agricultural sector in Uganda is hindered by farmers’ limited use of fertilizers, a lack of quality seeds, and a lack of irrigation infrastructure. This has rendered agricultural produce vulnerable to climatic extremes and pest infections. Lack of quality packaging capabilities, high freight costs, a lack of all-weather feeder roads in rural areas to convey agricultural produce, scarcity of agricultural credit, limited knowledge of modern production practices, and poor post-harvest handling practises have also hindered the growth of the agricultural sector in Uganda.

The Road to Oil

According to the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU), the petroleum potential of Uganda was first documented in 1925 by a government geologist, E.J. Wayland, in a paper titled “Petroleum in Uganda.” In the report, the existence of oil seepage along the shores of Lake Albert on both the Ugandan and DRC sides was reported. This was the first time the public’s attention was drawn to the existence of oil in Uganda and its potential for exploration.

In 1936–1956, shallow stratigraphic wells were driven by the African–European Investment Company; these were the first in the landlocked country. In 1938, the Wiki B-1 well was drilled in Butiaba; this was the first deep well in the country. Twenty more shallow wells in Kibiro and Kibuku were drilled to determine the geological correlation. Oil exploration in these areas continued at regular intervals through the 1930s but was halted during the Second World War (WWII). Exploration works commenced in earnest in the 1980s following the acquisition of aeromagnetic data obtained from the entire Graben as well as the ensuing follow-up ground geophysical and geological work in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Since 1998, seismic data and several surveys have been undertaken, and since 2002, over one hundred wells have been drilled. During the 1940s and 1950s, the Geological Surveys and Mines Department accepted the presence of sedimentary sequences in the Albertine Graben. Commercially viable oil deposits were discovered in the Albertine Graben in 2006, and ever since, effective management procedures have been established to promote the growth and development of the oil sector in Uganda. The future seemed bright, but not for the biodiversity in these regions.

The Directorate of Petroleum in Uganda also revealed that there are five sedimentary basins in the country with oil potential: the Hoima Basin, Lake Kyoga Basin, Kadama-Motorola Basin, Lake Wamala Basin, and the Albertine Graben. Of all the sedimentary basins with oil potential, the Albertine Graben has so far proven to be the most prospective area for oil exploration in Uganda.

Uganda consumes approximately 32,001 barrels of oil per day as of the year 2016, thus making them rank 120th in the world. From a global perspective, they consume 0.0% of the world’s total oil consumption of 97,103,871 barrels per day. In Uganda, as of 2016, 0.3 gallons of oil per capita are consumed per day. According to the same report, in 2016, the world’s total oil reserves were 1,650,585,140,000 barrels.

Today, Uganda has approximately 6.5 billion barrels of oil reserves, with about 2.2 billion economically recoverable. Uganda produces about 0.00 barrels per day of oil, which is equivalent to 0.0% of its total proven reserves, making it rank 128th in the world. The government of Uganda has given out licences to some oil companies to develop the country’s oil reserves for export.

What is at stake?

Oil exploration in any part of the world has not always been pleasant to the environment, especially in places where there is much biodiversity. Environmental degradation, habitat loss, loss of arable land for agriculture, loss of aquatic resources, food chain disruptions, water and land pollution, and permanent destabilisation of ecosystems are the aftermath of oil exploration.

The Conservation Strategy Fund reported that the Albertine Rift is a 920-mile-long western area of the East African Rift. It covers parts of Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Formed millions of years ago by the collision of tectonic plates now drifting apart, the Albertine Rift runs from the northern end of Lake Albert to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika (the world’s second-deepest and second-largest freshwater lake in volume). The resultant effect of the geological activities that occurred in the region millions of years ago has created many of the world’s deepest lakes and Africa’s tallest mountains. The highest peaks in the Albertine Rift are found in the Rwenzori Mountains at 5,110 meters. Its unique variation in elevations contributes immensely to the diversity of habitats found there. Herein lie lowlands and montane forests, wetlands, alpine grasslands, and woodland savannas.

As mentioned by One Earth, the Albertine Rift Montane Forests contain the highest levels of faunal endemism in Africa, with dense forests on the lower elevations, giant bamboos and moorland on the highest peak, and montane forests covered with moss and ferns. It harbours one of the rarest animals in Africa, the mountain gorilla. It is also home to other endangered species such as some primates, elephants, okapis, hippopotamuses, butterflies, large quantities of fish, and rare birds. The Albertine Rift, consisting of more than half of Africa’s birds, 40% of Africa’s mammals, and about 20% of amphibians and plants, is a biodiversity hotspot. There are more threatened and endemic species within its borders than any other region in Africa. The Albertine Rift has been designated as a critical ecoregion and an Endemic Bird Area by the World Wildlife Fund and BirdLife International, respectively.

The topographic complexity of the Albertine Rift has resulted in a variety of climatic systems, making the ecoregion the most fertile region within all of Africa. It is no surprise that the human population in the region is diverse, culturally rich, and large. With over 1,000 people per square mile, the region has experienced many human conflicts and civil wars over the last four decades. High population density, incessant conflicts, extreme levels of poverty, and high biodiversity have brought about challenges for conservation in the area. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which has been active in that region since 1959, established the Albertine Rift Conservative Program in 2000, working throughout the region in support of the protected area authorities in all five countries in the Albertine Rift.

The ecology of the Albertine Rift is threatened by deforestation as the ever-growing population continues to seek new farmlands. Illegal timber extraction is another threat. But the biggest threat is the exploration of oil in the region.

Hence, many experts believe that oil exploration would cause more harm to the Albertine Rift than illegal timber extraction, farmland expansion, and gold mining. The Albertine Region contributes 30% of Uganda’s fish stocks. Oil exploration and drilling would disturb the land and marine ecosystems. Seismic methods used to explore for oil under the ocean floor would harm fish and marine mammals. the clearing of vegetation notwithstanding. According to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fish may experience reduced or stunted growth, reproduction damage, and other ill effects when exposed to oil. There would also be a massive loss of habitat, loss of arable farmlands, destruction of insect ecosystems, loss of aquatic resources, disruption in the food chain, reduced or stunted plant growth, poor yields of agricultural produce, and permanent damage to the environment.

Mitigating the impact

Many analyses and reports are of the opinion that oil exploration in the Albertine Rift would also result in induced crime, communal conflicts, civic instability, corruption, economic exploitation, and environmental degradation. There would be a strain on available resources and social amenities as well. Oil spillage, land use change, and gas flaring have become major problems in oil-producing states and communities, but cleanup efforts have never been adequate to adequately resolve the issue. The Albertine Rift would not be left out of this catastrophe. Hence, the need for quick action by stakeholders to mitigate the consequences of oil exploration in that region.

On September 11, 2020, the Ugandan government signed the host government agreement for the East African crude oil pipeline project (EACOP) in order to mitigate and ease the hardships that would result from oil exploration in the Albertine Rift. The shareholders’ agreement and bids for infrastructure plans, land acquisition, and community resettlement are yet to be put in place. The environmental threats emanating from the development of an oil industry in Uganda’s biodiverse Albertine Rift can be addressed by stakeholders through the laws and policies that govern oil exploration in any country.

In Uganda, the 1985 Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act was enacted to make provisions for the regulation of the exploration and production of petroleum. The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) is responsible for the day-to-day monitoring and supervision of the petroleum industry. The National Environment (Oil Spill Prevention, Preparedness, and Response) Regulation of 2020 also sees to the prevention and addressing of oil spills in Uganda.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would be used to address potential environmental impacts of Albertine Rift oil exploration through screening, alternatives, preliminary assessment, scoping, mitigation, the main Environmental Impact Assessment study and environmental impact statement, review, and monitoring.



  • Infonile:
  • International Trade Administration:
  • Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO):
  • Invest in Uganda:
  • Uganda Bureau of Statistics:
  • Worldometers:
  • Petroleum Authority of Uganda:
  • Petroleum Uganda Directorate:
  • Conservation Strategy Fund:
  • One Earth:



Geographer, environmental enthusiast, and a social scientist. He is concerned with human activities and their impact on the environment. A lover of history, natural sciences and the arts. A graduate of Geography and Environmental Management from the University of Abuja, Nigeria.

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