Why is the profit of a small oil exploration company taking precedence over the safety of thousands of people and the survival of species found nowhere else on earth, WWF asked SOCO in an open letter published today.
Despite a commitment to honest and ethical business and in face of widespread opposition, including from the UK government, SOCO refuses to abandon its exploration plans in Virunga, a World Heritage and Ramsar site.
One of the world’s most precious nature reserves, Virunga is home to critically endangered mountain gorillas but its area also encompasses mountains, glaciers and hundreds of species of mammals, some of which are found nowhere else on our planet.
In addition, it is a critical source of local livelihoods. Thirty thousand people depend on a nearby lake, Lake Edward, for their fish, a sustainable use of natural resources that produces as much as US$ 20 million per year of fish. Under SOCO plans, the lake will become a drilling site.
“The preliminary effort (of the oil exploration) seeks to prove that the oil in the ground is worth more than the economic security and safety of 30,000 people and endangered species who depend on this park for their survival,” Lasse Gustavsson, Director of Conservation at WWF International wrote in the letter.
“Your company repeatedly stated a commitment to conducting its business in an honest and ethical manner. Please show your leadership and commitment to sustainable development and strong community growth,” the letter said.
The letter is addressed to Roger Cagle, Executive Vice President, Deputy CEO of SOCO International. The London-based oil company is currently engaging in the preliminary phases of oil exploration in Virunga National Park,.
“We would like to remind you and your colleagues at SOCO that oil and mining development is prohibited in World Heritage sites, under the World Heritage Convention. The DRC Government is party to the World Heritage Convention and has included the convention in its national constitution,” Gustavsson wrote.
“We ask SOCO to choose to do the right thing now by committing to stay out of Virunga National Park,” he said.
It is currently against Congolese law to prospect or exploit minerals inside the country’s national parks.
SOCO’s plans are also being opposed by the United Kingdom government.
Virunga’s Block 5, which is 85% owned by FTSE-listed SOCO, is part of the Albertine Graben, an area that has also attracted French oil giant Total.
Experts say tourism in Virunga has the potential to generate direct and indirect revenues over US$ 10 million per year. Oil exploitation, however, would likely lead to direct exportation as crude oil through Uganda, with very limited revenues or jobs for the local economy.