In 2010, SOCO began oil exploration activities in the Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is home to 200 of the remaining 700 seriously endangered Mountain Gorilla.
In March 2011 DRC Environment Minister Jose Endundo rejected an environmental assessment submitted by SOCO and announced that the government would now be conducting its own environmental assessment into oil exploration in Virunga, as well as the entire border region.
SOCO denies the fact that drilling in the area could damage the park’s ecosystem and increase political tension in the area. Despite the DRC government’s decision, SOCO continues to drill on the Ugandan side of the border.
As revealed in Global Witness‘ release the Company announced in March 2012 “plans to press ahead with oil exploration in Africa’s oldest National Park and UNESCO World Heritage site, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They announced the plans after Global Witness contacted SOCO for a response.
Two permits giving SOCO the go-ahead were signed by DRC’s hydrocarbons and environment ministries despite a previously announced commitment by the government to suspend oil exploration in the Park pending the result of a Strategic Environmental Assessment. The assessment, funded by the EU and other international donors, is expected to be complete in late 2012.
SOCO’s plans to undertake an aerial survey have already been made public. However, the permits appear to give the green light to a broader range of exploration activities, including seismic surveys. A number of reliable sources also indicate that SOCO is “pushing ahead with plans to establish a camp in the fishing community of Nyakakoma, in the heart of the Park”.
Oil exploration in these globally vital rainforest ecosystems will further set a dangerous precedent that nowhere – whether protected, or ecologically and socially important – is immune from oil industry destruction. Given record oil prices and growing global demand, it appears every last bit of Earth’s large, wild and intact ecosystems will be sacrificed to industrial development – to extend our dependence upon fossil fuel, and delay transition now to renewable energy sources – while ensuring abrupt run-away climate change and global ecosystem collapse. Further rainforest ecocide for oil must end if we are to sustain global ecology. And standing old forests offer hope for advancement to the world’s forest dependent peoples.
Five part series of films dealing with oil exploration in Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and its potential environmental and human rights impact:
18 May 2013 – Good News for Africa’s Oldest National Park!
Oil and gas group Total will not explore for oil within the boundaries of Virunga National Park
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