The construction of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline has attracted intense criticism alleging that it will hamper the natural ecosystem and may degrade the ecological balance of nature at these locations.
If we see a few similar projects in the near past, this perception may change and we may arrive at a new narrative: Sustainable Development and nature conservation are not competitive, rather they are complimentary and many similar projects including Cairn India Pipeline are a standing example, Gujarat the most industrialized state of India is also home to the most enchanting forest the GIR forest, last home of Asiatic lions.
Oil Exploration and Processing projects capture very less geographical area, hence do not interfere much with the natural ecosystem but oil pipelines are often dramatically accused of affecting the ecosystem as a whole due to its widespread geographical presence. Let us analyze by a glimpse of a similar project executed in India in recent past.
It was a cloudy day in Jamnagar, Gujarat India when I packed my stuff to head to a remote location on the crude oil pipeline. While my technicians arranged the tools and, in the car, I grabbed the seat right behind the driver.
After Travelling about 30 KMs, we stopped before a bridge where a team of Security officers and Land Liaison Officer were waiting to receive us.
The security officer briefed us about the orientation of the Pipeline pointing to various natural landmarks where it passes, then we started to walk along the pipeline.
Today’s activity was an exceptional and a rare technological feat. One of the heating cable circuits of the “World’s Longest Electric Heated Crude Oil Pipeline” had suffered a fault and had to be repaired.
The precise location of the fault was determined previously by connecting it to special equipment at its terminal point at nearest AGI.
Now we were to reach the designated point, excavate the location for verification, further the cable will be repaired before it is put back to normal operation.
Cairn India’s 684 Km long Crude oil pipeline will continue to hold the feat of the longest heated pipeline until a similar project EACOP takes shape in Uganda and Tanzania.
As we walked the farmlands that border forest protected area’s fence, suddenly, a duo of jackals was spotted racing to hunt a rabbit ahead of us. The animals were pretty fit and grabbed their prey with quite an ease.
One of the security guards who was a local ascertained their age to be 4-5 Years. This means that they were born roughly at the time the pipeline construction activity was at its pinnacle, at a time when several construction machines were rumbling round the clock to dig a trench and weld the pieces of pipes to its present form, undoubtedly, the rural and the forest ecosystems got disturbed at that time.
Thanks to the enigmatic task of restoration that was undertaken by the Cairn Project Team. The top fertile black soil layer was removed and kept separately and was filled back in the same fashion as it was before.
The team even attempted to relocate some trees with their roots and layer of soil intact although not many such attempts were successful.
But the toilsome attempts carried out to rearrange nature back to its normal were beyond doubt inspiring, thought-provoking, and above all rewarding.
This was possible due to the meticulous planning, and untiring hard work on the ground in form of implementation.
My today’s visit has sealed the impression that nature has an eternal force to restore itself back to equilibrium if it is disrupted briefly well within its fragile limits.
The EACOP Project is similar to Cairn India Pipeline but it seems to be far more complex firstly due to more length secondly it’s a difficult and challenging terrain to work on.
The route consists of more wilderness and less farmlands unlike the latter. It also has to cross a lot of Waterbodies like the Lake Victoria basin and a few others.
At many locations, the pipeline will pass through terrains that are home to a few unique protected and endangered species.
The rich biological diversity of this portion of the African Continent is a gift of nature to the entire mankind.
Such projects are planned with a sense of responsibility to restore the ecosystem back to normal.
Such projects are not be motivated by a short-term profit statement, rather an open-minded and far-sighted approach that emphasizes restoring the natural integrity and stability yields better results, Accordingly, EACOP Team has envisioned the Pipeline construction with a net positive Biological Impact.
The local communities, Nature Conservationists, other organizations with common interests must focus on helping the EACOP Team complete the Project as per schedule.
Unnecessary hindering the project at key locations will delay the project thereby stretching the limit within which nature can restore itself.
Often such rich wildlife conservation programs suffer heavily due to lack of funds, a quick construction of a pipeline will thereby ensure bare minimum impact on wildlife after restoration and the enormous cash inflow will ensure adequate funding of critical conservation programs, thereby making it a win win situation for all.
In a nutshell, people and organization who are willing to protect the environment must enhance the pipeline construction so that it can be laid at the earliest and returned back to its users.
A few years after the completion of construction, farmers will continue to till their land, fishermen will carry on with their daily schedule, once again massive herds of Wildebeest will be racing their way to the never-ending journey of life “The Great Migrations”, while with predators like Lions will lay ambush to create an opportunity to hunt down their prey.
The Hyenas will be searching to steal flesh from other predators and the Elephants will as usual walk elegantly unperturbed by smaller fellow beings, so the cycle of life shall gather the same pace and will continue endlessly without any creature realizing that the oil is flowing stealthily and silently beneath them.
Niranjan Singh Rathore
Ex-Senior Engineer Elect. Cairn India (Vedanta)