OCT 2011: Hydrocarbon Ministry grants permit for exploration in Virunga NP

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.

Notes to editors:

  1. The permits being published today are available for download below in their original French.
  2. An English translation of the Hydrocarbons Ministry’s permit is also available for download below.
  3. The permit issued by the Hydrocarbons Ministry appears to give the go ahead for all exploration activities detailed in article 8 of the production sharing agreement for Bloc V. This production sharing agreement is available here in its original French: http://mines-rdc.cd/fr/documents/Hydro/contrat_rdc_dominion_soco_cohydro.pdf. The relevant section can be viewed on page 16-18. An English translation of relevant section is available for download below.
  4. Both the 1969 Law on Nature Conservation and the 2011 Environment Code prohibit oil exploration activities in protected areas. They would also be a breach of the Convention on World Heritage which DRC has ratified. Article 215 of the DRC’s constitution states that such treaties take precedence over all national laws. On 8 March 2012 Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders described the recent exploration authorisations as “contrary to Congolese legislation and international commitments”.
  5. The order signed by the Environment Ministry authorises “aeromagnetic and aerogravimetric” surveys in Bloc V. The order signed by the Hydrocarbons Ministry seems to give SOCO the go ahead for a full range of exploration activities including on the ground seismic tests.
  6. It emerged publicly in 2010 that SOCO International had signed a contract covering Bloc V of the Albertine Rift. Bloc V contains a sizeable chunk of the Virunga National Park. SOCO has published information on its activities in Bloc V: http://www.socointernational.com/csr-virunga_new.
  7. SOCO holds its interests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa) through its 85% owned subsidiary, SOCO Exploration and Production DRC Sprl (“SOCO E&P DRC”).
  8. UNESCO have also expressed their concerns about the situation in a news release: http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/849/

Source: Global Witness