SOCO International prepares to survey for oil in gorilla park

mountain gorilla

mountain gorilla (credit: d_proffer)

London based oil exploration company SOCO International have released details for their exploration of Block V in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Block V takes in parts of the important Virunga National Park, home of the mountain gorillas and location of Lake Edward and its hippo population.

The company have released details about an aero-survey that they will be conducting in the next few months. Depending on the results of this survey more detailed investigation will take place later this year and may include compressed air seismic surveying at Lake Edward. [pullquote]We will not undertake any direct activity within the Park until we have the results of this aero-survey and we have consulted fully with all primary stakeholders. Our current plans have met with the approvals of all the local authorities.[/pullquote]

Compressed air seismic surveying has been chosen as a way to get detailed rock structure surveys with minimal impact on the lake environment. 

SOCO International have stated that no further activities will be taken in the exploration of oil until further discussion with local stakeholders and approval given by the DRC government.  They state that they do not expect any direct exploration within the boundaries of Virunga National Park – a World Heritage Site – for at least 6 months.

Roger Cagle, Deputy Chief Executive of SOCO, commented, “Our activities within the Virunga National Park continue to be very preliminary and confined to an aerial study.  We will not undertake any direct activity within the Park until we have the results of this aero-survey and we have consulted fully with all primary stakeholders. Our current plans have met with the approvals of all the local authorities. We are very aware of the need to protect the interests of all stakeholders within the Park and are working hard to ensure that we do so.

Exploration for il within the Virunga National Park would be very difficult to do legally as the park is protected by both national and international treaties. The park itself is a World Heritage Site and Lake Edward is a designated RAMSAR wetland.

This protection leads some conservationists to become concerned that the wildlife park boundaries may be redrawn to allow oil drilling – both exploration and exploitation to take place. Last March 41 DRC MP’s proposed redrawing the park boundaries to allow the oil companies in. 

The latest proposals by SOCO International is the first since a ban on oil exploration in Virunga was put in place last year. The ban on on the ground exploration is aimed to remain in place until a full environmental impact assessment has been produced.

Conservation groups are disheartened by the latest move and by SOCO International continued intention to drill in the Virunga National Park.

Global Witness advocate Colin Robertson remarked, “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.

Marc Languy,WWF’s Conservation Director for Central Africa, stated “Having survived years of armed conflict, it is devastating to see an oil company jeopardise the park’s people and wildlife in its pursuit of profit. It’s not only because of the drilling and pollution that oil exploration will damage the park – the associated influx of people brings a risk of further conflict which can have a devastating impact on the lives of local communities, and on the park’s endangered species.