MAY 16, 2012: Access or no access for SOCO to Virunga NP?

On Wednesday 16th of May, SOCO International, one of the two oil companies having participating interests in the oil concession block V covering a big part of the Virunga National Park, announced its Interim Management Statement relating to the period from 1 January 2012 to 15 May 2012.

SOCO reports to have been engaging with different stakeholders during this period, “fostering a comprehensive debate“[1] among them. As local sources informed us, several campaigns were organized by SOCO during this period, one of them was held in Nyakakoma on the 15th of March. During this meeting SOCO’s representative actively debated with local communities the construction of some telecommunication infrastructures within the park boundaries. The question remains why SOCO did not engage with all these different stakeholders before signing a share contract with the DRC-Government? And why does SOCO not legally respect the status of the World Heritage site, which does not allow any mining and extractive activities?

This point, and SOCO’s lack of respect for the World Heritage status, was also pointed out by the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism in a letter[2] to the General Director of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bukova, on April 2012.

Another aspect that casts some doubts on SOCO’s Interim Management Statement is the question about having access to the Virunga National Park. SOCO states to “have signed with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) a co-operation agreement that grants and governs SOCO’s access to the Virunga National Park” [3]. This fact seems to be again in contradiction with the content and the statement made by the Environment Minister in his letter to the UNESCO, notwithstanding that the ICCN falls under the jurisdiction of this same ministry.


In his letter to the UNESCO, former Minister Endundo states clearly that the only approval that SOCO has received is to undertake aerial survey above Block V flying over Lake Edward, with no possible physical access to the Park.


Endundo evens goes further specifying that no agent from the oil company is granted access to the park, with no exceptions, and that a special monitoring committee has been created in order to assure this enforcement.

Interim Management Statements should give performance data and up-to-date portfolio information. SOCO’s statement on their oil concession in block V let everyone wonder if we have missed some piece of information about an institution or person granting them access to the park? Or perhaps SOCO does not understand and respect national and international laws?