The Logbaba Gas Field in Douala

Logbaba Gas Field
Logbaba Gas Field

During his visit in Cameroon in May, the author of this article visited the Ndogpassi district in Douala[1]. This is where the Logbaba on-shore gas field is situated. Rodeo Development Limited, a subsidiary entirely owned by the British Victoria Oil and Gas, has held the exploration permit since 2001 and started carrying out exploratory drillings together with RSM Production Cooperation and with its Cameroonian partner Societé Nationale des Hydrocarbures (SNH) in 2009.


Around 155,000 people live in Ndogpassi. A high proportion of the residents lack access to drinking water and functioning telephone connections are virtually nonexistent. The garbage collection does not function either and about one third of the households have no access to electricity. Gas had been discovered in Ndogpassi for the first time in the 1950s when Cameroon was still a French colony.


The French company ELF, carried out exploratory drillings but the project was then abandoned because ELF was interested in discovering oil, not natural gas, which at the time was not considered commercially relevant. Now the project is back on track and Rodeo’s exploratory drillings apparently showed that the gas of is of high quality. The exploratory phase has in the meantime ended and in April 2011 a presidential decree authorized the beginning of the commercial exploitation of the gas. The official inauguration ceremony took place a few weeks ago.



The lack of information


I met a concerned local resident in his house together with AEFJN's local Cameroonian antenna and with the Cameroonian NGO FOCARFE. In the short time we spent there to listen to his concerns, about 20 other residents arrived to tell us of theirs. The first serious concern they expressed was that they had been given little to no information about the project. Neither the Cameroonian state nor Rodeo fulfilled their obligation towards the local community to provide accessible information in a timely manner. This happened in spite of Cameroon’s Environmental Framework Law of 1996 which foresees clearly the principle of participation according to which each citizen shall have access to information on the environment, including information on dangerous substances and activities.


Rodeo did not hold its few information sessions until August 2010, several months after the beginning of the exploratory drillings. The information documents made available by Rodeo were in English, a language not spoken by most residents who speak French. Notably, the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment study was also carried out in English. The practice of giving documents in English to locals who do not speak the language is apparently relatively widespread among international companies operating in Cameroon. The companies use the formerly bilingual status of Cameroon (French and English) as an excuse to provide locals in the French speaking areas - which are the majority - with documents that are in English and therefore often incomprehensible for them.



The issue of landownership and compensation


According to the information available, a large part of the land used for the exploitation of gas is state-owned National Domain and classified as Public Property of the State. Public Property of the State is inalienable. However, the right to occupy such a property may be granted under a permit or a contract of occupation. Initially the exploratory drillings had taken place on a surface of 16 hectares; now exploitation has been authorized on a surface of 20 square kilometres.


The areas affected by the activities of Rodeo were declared “un-constructible” by the local municipality in 1998, rendering all successive construction in the zone illegal. However, most local residents were unaware of this and being more familiar with customary aspects of landownership than with legal details have continued to build in this area. Some even claim to have received building permits after 1998, a claim we have been unable to verify ourselves. The Environmental and Social Impact study recognizes that an “extremely sensitive approach” to the expropriations needs to be adopted by Rodeo entailing “intensive consultation” with the community through their leadership and administrative structures and covering issues such as timing and modus operandi of the expropriations. The study also mentions the necessity of Rodeo developing a Resettlement Plan.


During one of the very few information sessions held in Douala in August 2010, Rodeo in fact stated that it was looking for land for the relocation of the inhabitants of the area affected by the extraction of gas. According to the local residents we spoke to, none of this has happened and most of them are still waiting both for information and for the actual compensation. The lucky few who were compensated were compensated in cash and were not relocated. Cash compensation is risky as it gives sudden wealth to the recipients who are in most cases not used to manage such sums and risk squandering it, rather than investing it in the purchase of land elsewhere. Written requests by AEFJN to provide us with information regarding the relocation plans have not been answered by Rodeo.


Locals had tried to organize themselves in a civil committee when the exploration phase began, but the effort soon collapsed. The largest landowner of the area received his compensation and moved elsewhere, abandoning the committee. Other committee members backed down after receiving threats. The political situation is generally tense in Cameroon. Long-time president Paul Biya, in power since 1982, intends to run for yet another mandate at the elections scheduled for this autumn and the revolts in the Arab world as well as the crisis in the Ivory Coast have set off alarm bells and prompted the government to tighten the screws.



Thomas Lazzeri

[1] This article is based on interviews with locals, Victoria Oil & Gas' May 2011 Chariman Letter to the Shareholders and on the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment study of the project.


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