THE Mtwara–Dar-es–salaam gas pipeline debate needs to INCLUDE environmental issues
BY MOHAMED MATOPE
The drilling of natural gas off the coast of Mtwara and the government’s plan to construct the natural gas pipeline from Mtwara to Dar- es-salaam has become a source of contention between Mtwara residents and the authority. The ant –gas pipeline movement which was first started in a form of demonstration then followed by eruption of violence and public unrest was among the largest in the region.
The (ant-gas pipeline) movement was in part caused by lack of public participation in policy and decision –making process of the pipeline construction project. When people are becoming more intellectually aware of the existing democratic structures, thanks both to their education and to having more access to means such as the social media, it is not smart to bypass them and rule without their consultation.
Unfortunately, the amped-up rhetoric has overshadowed the potential benefits of natural gas drilling and the construction of 532 km long gas pipeline would provide to the country. Once completed, the project will generate six times the combined power currently produced by Kidatu, Pangani, Mtera and Nyumba ya Mungu. It would ensure more reliable and low cost energy supply and it would multiply economic development opportunities.
To put aside the economical benefits this project will bring to our nation, it is also important for people to have a better understanding of the possible negative consequences this project will bring to their communities. Gas production is a dirty business. There are many accidents associated with gas drilling process, and the environmental and economic consequences of these accidents can be massive.
At the end of the day, while the entire nation will benefit from the offshore drilling, Wamakonde, Wamakua and Wayao will bear the entirety of the danger caused by the offshore drilling.
The gas leak in the Gulf of Mexico, reminded the world how devastating a massive gas and oil leak can be. Fish, shellfish, marine mammals as well as birds were killed in droves by a slick extending across thousands of square kilometers. As the oil and gas reached the shore it destroyed valuable coastal wetlands and beaches, harming the animals that rely on these habitats, damage the soils, poison the drinking water as well as precious air.
Ironically, for the most part, gas pipeline debate in Tanzania ignores the human and environmental concerns. Instead, the media and other critics focus on constitutional and economic issues, while we all well know that there are very few good legal or economic arguments against offshore drilling. Most of the critics' arguments basically boil down to: outrageous conspiracy theories and unachievable demands such as; proportional gas revenue for the region.
The most astonishing thing to me has been seeing the leaders of major opposition parties maintain similar arguments. “Mtwara’s gas should benefit Mtwara residents”. Seriously! Who is going to pay for the gas drilling? Tanzania government or Mtwara government?.
It would simply be improbable for Mtwara region to receive equal proportion of oil revenue today, while for over fifty years the Mtwara region has largely lived at expense of other region’s natural resources.
There are, as in most things, no absolutes in this debate. Digging deeper than the rhetoric and slogans, I find that Mtwara residents have legitimate concern for the gas drilling as well as have every right to question their government, how they are going to benefit with the oil investment. However, the people who claimed to support the Mtwara residents’ cause are self centered type, who have hijacked what was a legitimate public discourse and turn it into political propaganda.
As a result, those who claim to speak for the people of Mtwara, often are speaking for their own self interest.
Having said that, economical challenge must move beyond what is convenient and toward what is necessary. No poor country can afford to sacrifice its economy to meet environmental challenges. But, that does not mean environment issues and offshore leaks accidents should be completely ignored. We need a better understanding of what risks we are willing to take.
Mohamed Matope is a syndicated columnist for Tanzanian and African blogs.