THE huge potential of the estimated 57.25 Tcf of natural gas reserve has begun to create a major concern among stakeholders over the possible adverse environmental and social effects created by extraction of the resource as experienced in other parts of Africa.
In a bid to mitigate the situation, stakeholders are finalising the process to form a new forum aimed at providing a platform for government, oil and gas, academic institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs) and local communities to meet and discuss related to oil and natural gas developments in Tanzania.
According to a member of the organising committee, Martha Kamuzora, a Senior Environment Officer with Statoil A.S Tanzania Company, the group known as the ‘Green Reference Group’ (GRG) aims at facilitating information sharing, discussions and collaboration between the stakeholders on environmental dimension of oil and gas practices and development.
“It also aims at providing a platform for dissemination of accurate information on oil and gas developments to the public as well as to enhance stakeholder participation and engagement in processes related to environmental impact assessment and monitoring,” Kamuzora says.
It is being formed under the Oil for Development (OfD) Project being executed by the World Wildlife Fund Tanzania Country Office (WWF-TCO), which has agreed to support the group in its initial stages of growth.
Why green? According to WWF-TCO Energy and Extractives Programme Lead, Roy Namgera, ‘Green’ reflects “life”, showing concern with ecosystem/environment; “Reference” reflects somewhere to get information on environment, oil and gas issues; “Group” means the technical team of personnel who have technical background on environment, oil and gas issues.
“Therefore, GRG is a platform that gathers basic information on environmental concern with regard to energy, oil and gas and deliver to stakeholders,” she says.
Speaking at a recent meeting workshop to finalise the terms of reference and paper work on the establishment of the formal group at Stella Maris Hotel in the coastal and ancient town of Bagamoyo, Kamuzora said Tanzanian citizens have not been getting the right information at the right time.
There was a general agreement among participants, who included government and oil and gas officials, from such CSOs as Mazingira Network (Manet), Northern Coalition on oil and gas and Mrengo of Mtwara, that most of local communities have no effective access to information.
It was also agreed that politicians had been using the information gap to misrep resent facts on the sector for their personal interests. Participants said that although the government, through its institutions, has a role to disseminate the information to the public but efforts towards realisation of such a goal were still inefficient.
The media, on another hand, has mostly sought sensational news which can boost their markets making important technical information to get little attention.
Namgera said that the WWF decided to support work that had been started by Statoil Company to create a link that would enable oil and gas companies, government institutions, and communities to share information.
“Oil and Gas companies are interested in giving the correct information to the public but they have no such an opportunity and the CSOs need to get an opportunity to meet oil and gas companies, government institutions and such big organizations as the WWF,” he said.
He said WWF’s work aims at helping to bridge the gap of a missing link where by all stakeholders ended in complaining over each other. He said that oil and gas companies were complaining against the government while CSOs and local communities were complaining against oil and gas companies and the government.
“The establishment of such a group would reduce misconceptions would allow the nature to remain natural,” he said.
Since its establishment in August 2016, two meetings have been held--the first one being the inception meeting of the held at Statoil headquarters and the second held at the WWF TCO which sought to prepare the organisation framework.
Stakeholders at the Bagamoyo meeting called for the need to develop a communication strategy that would show where to get information, the kind of information, who to inform, when and where to deliver information.
The media was also recognised as a critical stakeholder but the meeting pointed to the need to build the capacity of the media players or journal ists so that they can disseminate the right information concerning oil and gas to the public.
There were reservations, however, in sole dependency on the media for dissemination of such information because media organs were also business minded and looked for information that could make them sell their media products.
“We must look at the mode of dissemination. How does the information reach the citizens? Do we solely depend on the media,” Josiah Severe, the Northern Coalition Chairman asked.
He said the mode of dissemination should destroy the context of the message so there is a need of working out more modes of reaching the people other than the media.
A media environmental consultant, Sechelela Balisidya, spoke of the need for extra care on the information to be produced for dissemination, time and the type of channel to be used for dissemination.
“There is a need to prepare special training for journalists to enable them to relay the right information from stakeholders but we as CSO leaders also need to get training on how to pack the information we want to disseminate through the media,” Balisidya said.
The group also had recommendation on the language to be used in information dissemination that can be widely reached and understood by local communities. Severe said that most of the information is in English, therefore “we need to use the language most understandable to the majority of the people."
Above all, the stakeholders spoke of the need for developing a clear system whereby there is a good flow of information from both top to down and bottom to up to encourage effective information sharing.
Most of the participants were positive that the platform would be the right link that could forestall any potential of adverse environmental and social effects created by extraction of the resources, as experienced in many parts of the African continent.