Lake Edward

The Ugandan Government has received seven bids for six oil exploration blocks in the Albertine rift basin, close to the border with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with concern expressed by environmental groups.

The Ugandan Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development said that the winners will be selected and deals will be signed by the end of June.

As estimated by government geologists, commercial oil deposits at DRC are set to total six billion barrels.

Located in Ngassa, Tai Tai and Karuka, Mvule, Turaco, Kanywantaba and Ngaji, the six blocks cover approximatelyl of 3,000km². Commercial oil production is expected by 2018.

The bidders are from Australia, Nigeria, Canada and the US.

The first competitive bidding round for the exploration blocks was announced in February 2015 and bidding documents were issued to 16 companies in October 2015.

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"Oil contracts can last for 30 years or more, and oil exploration can do irreversible damage to both people and environment."

George Boden from Global Witness said: "Oil contracts can last for 30 years or more, and oil exploration can do irreversible damage to both people and environment.

"The government should carry out careful checks into the background of each company and publish the details of all of their real owners to ensure that they are suitable for the job and that there is no conflict of interest."

The organisation said that all of the oil blocks in the existing licencing round overlap with environmentally protected areas.

However, the Ngaji block is of particular concern as the area covers half of Lake Edward and large part of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

It also forms part of the same ecosystem as Africa’s oldest national park Virunga and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Oil exploration in this block could risk oil spill or leaks into the lake, impacting food and water security for many people.

Image: Lake Edward from Mweya in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park. Photo: courtesy of Duncan Wright.