FEB 2011 IUCN warns SOCO: oil exploration in Virunga NP will have irreversible adverse effects for human livelihoods and natural systems

“IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) calls for a global moratorium on oil and gas exploitation in ecologically sensitive areas, including deepwater ocean sites and polar areas. In a statement from the ruling body of the world’s oldest and largest conservation organization, IUCN says that the rising demand for energy is leading us into more difficult environments, increasing the risk of costly accidents with a price that is too high both for human livelihoods and the natural systems which support them”[1]

Prior to this statement, in February 2011 in a letter to Ed Story, president and CEO of SOCO International Plc, IUCN already expressed grave concern about oil exploration and exploitation in Virunga National park, World Heritage Site.

Virunga National Park is not only an ecologically sensitive area but it is also home of exceptional species and habitats; pushing for oil exploration within the park and Lake Edward will have “significantly and irreversible adverse effects” on its ecosystems and human livelihoods.

As Advisory body on Natural World Heritage Sites to UNESCO World Heritage Committee, IUCN recalls in its letter to SOCO the “incompatibility of oil exploration and exploitation in respect of World heritage status” and urged the DRC government not to authorize any project for oil exploration in the Virunga National Park. IUCN also brings under the attention of SOCO the fact that other members of the extractive industries and financial institutions, which are committed to conduct their business activities in a responsible manner, respecting laws and protecting the environment, have committed to a “no-go” policy on oil exploration and exploitation in World Heritage sites.

It is important to clarify that granting oil extraction rights is against Congolese and International laws. This letter was sent to SOCO in 2010. The same message of concern was reiterated during the last World Heritage Committee in June 2012:

“5. Expresses its deep concern over the granting of a Certificate of Environmental Acceptability for an aeromagnetic and aerogravimetric data gathering campaign, which appears to contradict the Government’s decision announced at the 35th session of the Committee to suspend petroleum exploration pending completion of the strategic environmental assessment;

6. Reiterates its request to the State Party to revise its authorizations and not to grant new authorizations for petroleum and mining exploration and exploitation within the property boundaries and recalls its position on the incompatibility of petroleum and mining exploration and exploitation with World Heritage status;

7. Appeals to the TOTAL and SOCO companies to adhere to commitments already made by Shell and ICMM not to undertake petroleum and mining exploration or exploitation within World Heritage properties”[2]

What have the companies involved in oil exploration in Virunga National Park being doing with these concerns? What are their real Corporate Social Responsibility values?


[1] Source: IUCN

[2] Source: UNESCO WHS

One thought on “FEB 2011 IUCN warns SOCO: oil exploration in Virunga NP will have irreversible adverse effects for human livelihoods and natural systems

  1. In reference to the above post, and as we explained in our response to the letter you mention from IUCN to Ed Story, President and CEO of SOCO International plc (sent in 2011 not 2010), we believe our respective agendas need not necessarily be divergent. The Virunga National Park was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1994 as a result of war and civil conflict. Although it is important to note that no drilling has been planned or is even warranted, we believe that SOCO’s presence in and near the Park can offer valuable support to conservations efforts. Responsibly conducted commercial activities can also provide a measure of stability of enhancing local/regional economies, thereby raising living standards for local communities.

    Contrary to what it stated above, SOCO is involved in a part of the Virunga National Park at the express invitation of the DRC Government; this is formalised through a Production Sharing Contract signed in 2006 and was ratified by Presidential Decree in 2010. The DRC Government has determined that this contract is valid according to their own legislation, and announced this in a letter to UNESCO in August 2012, which is available to view on its website. SOCO therefore has a contractual commitment with the DRC to continue with our activities in Block V. If the DRC Government decides that our involvement in Block V is no longer legal then we will of course stop all activities.

    Importantly, to further clarify the context of SOCO’s involvement in Virunga National Park:

    In March 2011, the DRC Government commissioned a Strategic Environment Evaluation (‘SEE’) of the area covered by the Virunga National Park and Block V to assess the region’s petroleum resource potential. To carry out the studies, the DRC Government is utilising oil exploration companies with whom it had already signed production sharing agreements, in this case, SOCO.

    Accordingly, the SEE provides the context for SOCO’s aerial survey, which is the only exploration activity planned at this time. This aerial survey will involve a helicopter flying over Lake Edward and the adjacent area of lowland savannah to gather magnetic and gravity information. In parallel with the aerial survey, SOCO will carry out several environmental baseline studies (e.g. an inventory of hippopotami and fish and mollusc studies on Lake Edward) which have been determined through close collaboration with the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (‘ICCN’) and the Congo Environmental Studies Group (‘GEEC’).

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