Governments and oil companies slammed over Virunga exploration

David Lloyd Wildlife Photography

Saint Petersburg – The committee overseeing World Heritage Sites yesterday cautioned that petroleum exploration in Virunga National Park could cause serious harm and should be halted. WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna & Flora International, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Lukuru Foundation welcome this strong position and urge the DRC government and oil companies to act on it.

Expressing its concern over recent actions by petroleum companies, the World Heritage Committee reiterated its position that oil development is incompatible with World Heritage status. In the Committee’s decisions, passed at its annual meeting, the committee also called on the Democratic Republic of the Congo to revoke permits granted to exploration companies.

British oil company SOCO International, which has already begun activities in Virunga, was criticized in the State of Conservation report on Virunga as being “hostile to the park”. The committee said SOCO’s permits did not conform to Democratic Republic of the Congo’s international commitments.

SOCO has announced plans to begin aerial surveys to map oil deposits, and reportedly landed a helicopter in the park earlier this month. Questions over authorization for the landing allegedly led to an altercation between Congolese navy sailors, acting as security for SOCO, and Virunga park rangers. The incident resulted in the bayonet stabbing of a ranger, according to witnesses.

Residents have expressed concern over the possibility that pollution from SOCO exploration in Lake Edward could contaminate fishing waters where 30,000 residents make their livelihoods.

Total, the other oil company with a concession in the park and SOCO were admonished by the committee for not joining other industry leaders in pledging to remain out of all World Heritage Sites. The Committee also called on the countries where the companies are headquartered to “to ensure that petroleum and mining companies in their territory cause no damage the World Heritage properties.”

Virunga National Park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. It is recognized for its unique landscapes and rare animals, including critically endangered mountain gorillas.

For further information please go to WWF

2 thoughts on “Governments and oil companies slammed over Virunga exploration

  1. Reference your article which was taken directly from the WWF website, we would like to clarify the following points:

    SOCO International plc (SOCO)’s involvement in ‘Block V’ is at the express invitation of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Government.

    SOCO considers minimal environmental impact to be a priority in the areas we operate in, but we acknowledge that we are a commercially driven company.

    We intend for our positive social impact on the ‘Block V’ surroundings to far outweigh any minor environmental impact that we may have. It is absolutely our intention to have a positive social impact on the local communities’ lives, so we can truly say as an organisation that we have been a positive presence. We have already been in dialogue with many local stakeholders to understand their needs and priorities.

    SOCO adheres to all the DRC’s environmental preservation regulations, which include the continual use of environmental impact studies at each stage of any of our activities. We are also working closely with the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (‘ICCN’).

    We would like to emphasise that we are at the preliminary phase of exploration for possible hydrocarbons and, even if successful, we are several years away from concluding our scientific research. At this stage, no drilling has been planned.

    ‘Block V’ currently encompasses an area of the Virunga National Park, including a part of Lake Edward. However, we would like to make it clear that Block V is not located close to the Mikeno Sector, which is home to the famous Mountain Gorillas. This has been subject to much inaccurate media speculation.

    The initial exploration phase includes an aerial survey which would then be followed by a survey on Lake Edward, both commissioned by the DRC Government. We do not expect any animals or fish will be harmed as a direct result of our activities.

    You should be aware that the incident you refer to regarding the helicopter landing in the Virunga National Park and altercation is inaccurate.

    As you know, we released a statement about this event at the time, the salient points from which are as follows: We are aware of the situation that took place on 15th June 2012 involving a helicopter landing in the Virunga National Park. We would like to make it very clear that no SOCO employees or associates were involved and we are in no way responsible for the reported incident surrounding a routine, planned and fully authorised helicopter flight. Certain media reports on the issue contained a series of inaccuracies and did not include the fact that the helicopter flight had departed over 45 minutes before the reported incident took place.

    Please could you amend your posting as necessary.

    1. Dear user in answer to your comment, we would like to refer to WWF’s reaction on the same comment also posted on their site and referring to the same article : Governments and oil companies slammed over Virunga exploration.

      “To the user that posted the first comment under the name SOCO International PLC: we confirm every word on this statement.
      In the other hand, could you confirm that the post you published here in our website is indeed an official statement from SOCO International PLC? If so, could you also provide a link from your official website where we can see this very same statement?
      We only can see the statement you refered in your last paragraph on the helicopter incident at Virunga National Park on 15 June. However, we can’t find the statement you posted here, therefore we can’t recognize if this post really belongs to SOCO International PLC.

      Please confirm.


      Oscar Soria
      Director of Media
      WWF International”

      Source: Comments WWF –

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