Global Witness reveals previously unpublished exploration permits.
A London-listed FTSE250 oil company, SOCO International, has announced 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 on Wednesday evening, after Global Witness contacted SOCO for a response.
Two permits – published today by Global Witness – 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 being published today 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.
Virunga National Park is a highly vulnerable ecosystem and the source of the Congo and the Nile Rivers. It is a vital habitat for numerous protected species including mountain gorillas, hippopotamus and elephants, and is home to Lake Edward, which stretches over 2,300 km2 and supports the livelihoods of around 50,000 people.
“Undertaking oil exploration or exploitation on the ground in a UNESCO World Heritage site constitutes a breach of the Convention on World Heritage, as well as DRC’s own laws and constitution”, said Colin Robertson of Global Witness. “SOCO’s plans are a real threat to the protection of Virunga’s wildlife and to people who depend on Lake Edward. The region is also marked by ethnic tensions and the presence of armed militia groups is still a threat to stability. These factors could be exacerbated if oil exploration is carried out without consulting local people.”
SOCO has previously been accused by the Park’s managers of entering Virunga illegally, notably in February 2011 when representatives travelling in a SOCO vehicle are reported to have forced the barriers. In a response to Global Witness SOCO stated that these accusations were “without merit” and that “no SOCO personnel or representatives have been involved in such an incident.”
In a response to Global Witness SOCO stated that they have not yet conducted any exploration activities and had completed an environmental and social impact assessment. The company also clarified that it had obtained approval for aero-surveys, which involve flying over Lake Edward and that any activities beyond this would only be conducted with approval of the government and in consultation with stakeholders. SOCO also said that it had consulted extensively with local stakeholders including at two large workshops in February 2011 and said that these outreach efforts would continue.
“SOCO and the Congolese government must await the results of the Strategic Environmental Assessment before rushing into decisions that will damage livelihoods and a unique World Heritage site,” continued Robertson.
For further details please contact:
Colin Robertson on +44 (0)7803 605 362, +44(0)20 7492 5862, email@example.com
Andrea Pattison on +44 (0)20 7492 5858 or +44 (0)7970 103 083, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details, please visit: