Ogaden Oil (3): how the oil companies destroy the environment and people’s lives with impunity

Mining is one of the most environment-damaging activities humans carry out. It has far reaching impacts on the soil, water, air, human health, and biodiversity. To avoid or minimize these effects, mining is regulated and managed responsibly. But this doesn’t happen in SRS.

For decades, oil and gas companies wreaked havoc in the Somali Region by exploring indiscriminately wherever they wish. One of the most conspicuous signs indicating the activities of these companies are long seismic lines running in the region in all directions. These lines were cut through the bushes when exploring. This rare video taken by someone working in these projects somewhere in the region gives us a glimpse of what these companies do. (This is another clip worthy of watching.)

According this article, by Liban Farah, the Ethiopian military and exploration companies displace the people, bulldoze the forests, and destroy wildlife. In addition, according to Liban, the villages surrounding the drilling zones are burned. Such activities especially took place in the localities surrounding Calub and hilala fields.

Between 1950 and 1995, says Liban, 43 wells were drilled in Ogaden basin. But even more than this number have been drilled half that period after 1995, according to him. The area surrounding every well is cleared off trees and bushes.

In a piece on Addisstandard, Juweria Ali, a human rights activist, has told similar story. She says:

Civilians living around potential gas or oil reserves are routinely displaced or evicted by confiscation of livestock, imprisonment, sexual violence and murder. At other times, entire villages are burnt to the ground as detailed in Human Rights Watch’s 2008 report. Military officers guarding restricted drilling zones have committed mass killings and displaced the inhabitants of nearby towns such as Carmaale, Harawayn and Garbaguduud; many have lost their livelihoods whilst others have fled.

Backing up these stories, Bashir Farah, a health expert, portrays a grim picture of the environmental damage the exploring companies cause in the region. Bashir adds:

 Oil exploration activities have essentially shrunk the lands that nomads rely on for grazing, while imposing new restrictions around the movement of animals, killing anything and anyone in sight who trespasses certain demarcated areas.

It is worth mentioning that such restricted areas are made up of confiscated lands that have led to a systematic pattern of forced displacements and the loss of livelihoods.  In short, perhaps the least of the troubles brought by companies such as Poly-GCL is the thick dust that rises in the skies of Armale and Dhoobaweyn triggered by massive lorries transporting equipment.

Despite the decreased visibility caused by this rising dust, and the overall decrease in air quality, it appears that this is the least of the negative consequences that the presence of these corporations has had on the ancestral homelands of the local communities concerned.

Polcy-GCL, the Chinese company running Calub and Hilala fields, is planning to build a pipeline from Hilala all the way to Djibouti. The pipeline, with length of about 750km, will pass large swathes of SRS including forests, farmlands, and grazing lands. This will lead to destruction of large swathes of plants, shrubs, and grasslands.

In addition to the environmental damage, there will probably be areas surrounding the pipeline that will be designated as no-go zones for pastoralists and livestock thus depriving them of their valuable pasturelands. It regularly happens in drilling sites where miles of radial distance are marked as no-entry zones. This will be especially devastating if the pipeline passes through fertile, grasslands, and pasture rich areas.

On its side, New Age, the British company prospecting the ElKuran and Adigala fields, is planning to stretch a pipeline from Elkuran, Afdheer, to Hilala to connect it to that of Poly-GCL. This section of the pipeline, whose length is not yet known, will pass large agricultural rich lands. It will also cross Shabele River. Even in the future, New Age may stretch another pipeline section from Adigala joining it to the Poly-GCL’s.

The combined effect of the pipelines will certainly be felt by the pastoralists and farmers whose life is primary dependent on livestock. The same applies to farmers.

SRS is a semi-desert land. As a result, it gets less annual rain. In addition, the region feels the bite of climate change as the rains became more erratic and less frequent. Burning and cutting trees for charcoal and building houses already took its toll on the environment.

Exploiting the hydrocarbon resources in SRS is necessary for developing this underdeveloped region. However, these resources should be utilized responsibly by carrying out environmental impact assessments before carrying out any activity that can possibly affect the fragile environment in the region.

The SRS administration should be aware of and be proactive to the possible effects of these projects. Combining the utilization of the hydrocarbon resources with responsible and proactive management should strike a balance between the goal of economic development and the duty of protecting the environment. This should be a priority for the regional government. Ethiopia and the exploitive oil companies do not care about this issue. We have seen their indifference and exploitive behavior before.

This is the third part of this series on oil and gas in Ogaden Basin. The previous pieces can be accessed below:

Ogaden Oil (1): A Brief History

Ogaden Oil (2): Where is the role of the SRS government

Mohamed Maqadin
Maqadin@outlook.com