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Activist disrupts Total CEO speech at US energy conference, demands end to EACOP

Climate activist Aly Tharp, on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, disrupted a plenary session hosted by CEO Patrick Pouyanné of TotalEnergies, a French oil & gas company, during the CERAWeek Conference in Houston, Texas, USA.

TotalEnergies Disruption
Climate activist Aly Tharp raising the banner at the conference

Ms. Tharp stood on a chair at the conference, raised a banner with the words “STOP EACOP & RIO GRANDE LNG” and said: “In love and solidarity with the people of East Africa and across Texas, Louisiana and the entire world being poisoned by TotalEnergies and other companies in this room – we must end the era of fossil fuels!”

As she was escorted out of the building, she began to prayerfully sing a song: “People (are) going to rise like the water, we’re going to calm this crisis down!”

Ms Tharp, who works with GreenFaith, a multi-faith grassroots climate justice advocacy organisation, condemned TotalEnergies for allegedly worsening the climate crisis by investing in fossil fuel projects, which she added has also increased human suffering and biodiversity loss in the Global South.

“I am acting today because my faith as a Unitarian Universalist calls me to act for justice and the protection of life and future generations, in solidarity with communities most affected. From Texas to Tanzania and Uganda, TotalEnergies is causing tremendous harm,” Ms Tharp said.

She spoke in reference to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, in which TotalEnergies is the largest stakeholder with 62% stake. China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) has 8%, while Uganda and Tanzania equally share the remaining 30%. If the project is allowed to proceed, EACOP would be the world’s longest heated crude oil pipeline.

In preparations for the project, Tanzania and Uganda governments forcefully acquired land from locals, but reportedly did not compensate them fairly.

Many, including journalists and rights activists who openly question the two governments’ involvement in the oil projects are said to have been victims of attacks and sometimes arbitrary arrests.

A road constructed in the middle of Murchison Falls National Park is now the source of human/wildlife conflict that led to the killing of a 75-year-old man last month.

An assessment by experts has established that the EACOP project would produce at least 379 million tonnes of carbon and other pollutant gases along its entire value chain.

And now TotalEnergies is reported to be in talks with the company NextDecade to purchase gas from the proposed Rio Grande LNG export terminal, and that it may take an equity stake in the project. 

If built, Rio Grande LNG and the associated Rio Bravo pipeline owned by Enbridge would pollute low-income and Latinx communities of the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas, harm the local shrimping and fishing industry, irreparably damage the Laguna Atascosa wildlife refuge, threaten numerous endangered species like the ocelot, and destroy pristine lands sacred to the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of South Texas.

Rio Grande LNG is said not to have consulted with the Tribe, who opposes the project. For the last seven years, the LNG project has faced significant local opposition, as well as a recent court ruling forcing federal regulators to redo their analysis of Rio Grande LNG’s climate and environmental justice impacts.

GreenFaith has consistently condemned TotalEnergies and other such investors’ focus on fossil fuel projects in the Global South, calling it re-colonisation, since the oil is sold offshore and the economic growth, jobs and other benefits promised to the host countries are never delivered, making oil more of a curse than a blessing.

Other issues such as stranded assets, land that cannot be rehabilitated, loss of livelihoods, diseases, pollution, insecurity that causes the oil wells and fields to be guarded more than the people, besides the increased carbon footprints are also cause for worry.

“My faith, and so many of our faith traditions call on us to speak up when there is injustice being done to people and our planet. Total is poisoning communities from Africa to Texas and poisoning our climate. We cannot stand by in good faith while Total spouts lies about their climate record when this is happening,” Ms Tharp told reporters after her actions at the CERAWeek conference.

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