JUN 2012: Total opens a new oil front in Virunga National Park

While heavy fighting is going on in and around Virunga National Park  and thousands of people are fleeing their houses,  some oil companies prefer to do business as usual.

Total decided to increase its participating interests in Block III, covering 32% of the Virunga National park.

In its last operational update of 31st of May, the South African Oil company SacOil, partner in a joint venture with Total,  informs us that the French Total has decided to  acquire a further 6.66% interest in Block III.

Total is now not only the block operator of Block III but retains also 66,66%  interests. In addition, the update of Total’s partner states that they have completed successfully all environmental and social studies needed in order to pursue the 2D seismic survey in Block III.

How can that be possible when the first phase of the  Strategic Environmental Assessment -SEA – is not yet completed? The SEA is aimed at providing a strategic framework to ensure responsible oil development in the Albertine Graben region; it is needed in order to safeguard the environmental assets and ecosystems that are critical for the survival of the poorest in the region.

However, this question should not even be raised when talking about a World Heritage site and the refuge of the last mountain gorillas. What is most surprising is that TOTAL is one of the major oil companies in the world, which is committed to achieving corporate social responsibility and setting strong environmental stewardship.

The fact that they carry on with their oil program in a World Heritage site and even consider using the same exploration approach that in a non-protected oil concession is alarming. This new front could also create a dangerous precedent.

If a major oil company like Total decides to ignore the UNESCO World heritage Convention, of which France is one of the participating nations, and is at breach with the DRC’s own state law, is their corporate social responsibility policy an example for the smaller “Wildcatters” in the region?

Talking about responsibility, France as a  State Party to the World Heritage Convention has agreed to protect, conserve and safeguard World Heritage sites. Among other things one of their roles is to refrain from “any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and 2 situated on the territory of other States Parties to this Convention… and to help other Parties in the identification and protection of their properties.”[1]

Considering the threat that French Total poses on the integrity of the Virunga National park, and if they decide to go forward with the original exploration program, will the newly elected French government refrain from oil exploration that could lead to the destruction of one of the most biodiverse and rich World Heritage sites in Francophone Africa?

Maybe that some of the answers will come during the next meeting of the members States of the World Heritage Site Committee in June. 


For more information read SacOil’s Operational Update

“1.1 Block III, Albertine Graben, Democratic Republic of the Congo (“Block III”)

At the end of 2011, Total, the Block III operator, completed the acquisition and interpretation of a satellite imagery survey over the entire concession. The processing of the satellite imagery reaffirmed the exploration potential of the entire Block III and therefore it was decided to commit to an airborne geographical survey over the whole concession. In preparation for the exploration programme, environmental and social studies were also successfully completed.

For the 2012, a budget of US$30 million was approved by the joint venture, which would include the above mentioned acquisition of an airborne gravity magnetic survey over the entire block by Q3 2012, following which a 2D seismic survey will be designed and planned. The operator’s current intention is to use a similar exploration approach to that of the immediately adjacent concession (the prolific Blocks I, 2 & 3 in the Ugandan territory of Lake Albert) which proved highly successful.

In Q1 2012, Total increased their equity interest by acquiring a further 6.66% interest in Block III from DIG Oil to give Total a new total effective 66.66% interest in Block III. SacOil`s effective interest of 12.5% and its entitlement to contingent cash bonuses of US$54 million and a carry on all exploration expenses up to final investment decision (when a development plan is approved) remain unchanged.”

Source: SAcOil