Today in Kinshasa, the Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism, Mr José E.B. Endundo, announced the issue of an open letter to the worldwide conservation community clarifying the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s position on the published intentions of a British oil company, SOCO International, to undertake oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park, a designated World Heritage Site.
In so doing, he has initiated a comprehensive, transparent and inclusive Strategic Environmental Assessment, SEA, to analyse the best options available to the Congolese People. The SEA will provide the necessary recommendations, frequently required by the ministry, to decide which of the social and economic benefits will ensure true development for the region and its people. The SEA will be conducted with support from a number of donors of public aid.
In his letter Mr Endundo states that his Ministry has taken “…specific steps, which have led to the suspension of the given oil exploration activities. We have rejected the recommendations of an environmental impact assessment conducted by the oil company, Soco, which we consider premature, superficial and which does not conform to the standards which we would expect.”
The Minister has also confirmed that the senior management for Soco Oil had assured him that they “…will not attempt any prospection work in the park unless a positive consensus is achieved in their favour.”
The letter published yesterday reflects two of the Minister for the Environment’s main concerns, the rule of law and abiding by international commitments.
Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park (established in 1925) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, is home to approximately 200 of the world’s mountain gorillas and a small population of eastern lowland gorillas. Formerly known as Albert National Park, Virunga lies in eastern DR Congo and covers 7,800 square kilometers. The park is managed by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature—ICCN the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature. It contains more species of mammals, reptiles and birds than any other protected area in Africa, and possibly in the world, and has an exceptional diversity of landscapes stretching from the glaciers of the Ruwenzori Mountains, at over 17,000 feet, to impenetrable forests, savannas, rivers, Rwindi and Semiliki, and lake ecosystems.
Bloc V is an oil exploration concession assigned by contract to a consortium of three companies, Soco E&P (implementing partner), Dominion Petroleum and Cohydro. Over 50 percent of the concession is contained within Virunga National Park. Congolese Law (Ordonnance Loi 069-041) prohibits oil exploration activities within the national park, limiting the effective exploration activities to the areas outside the national park.