It was believed that Virunga was saved after the withdrawal in 2015 of the oil company Soco who wanted to drill in the park. It was an illusion: Kinshasa has been negotiating the renewal of the controversial permit to an offshore oil company.
It was June 2014. At that time, the British firm Soco International, after an intense campaign of environmentalists, announced the end of its oil activities in the UNESCO World Heritage site Virunga National Park. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) started calling for victory. In March 2015, on its website, the British oil company announced that it had ceased to hold the licence of block V, of which 52% of its 7529 km² is overlapping the territory of the Park.
The fear of environmental defenders, as well as the chief warden of the Park the Belgian Emmanuel de Merode, was that seismic exploration and possible oil exploitation could damage the rich and fragile biodiversity of the park. It is not only the refuge of the last Mount Gorillas shared with the Rwandan Volcanoes Park and the Ugandan Impenetrable Forrest, but also includes part of Lake Edward whose ecosystem provides livelihoods for more than 50,000 fishing families; all this could be threatened by a possible oil spill.
Many Coincidences …
Two years after the departure of Soco, the nightmare resurfaced. The letter Africa Energy Intelligence (AEI) of Paris has just revealed that the Congolese government has not turned the page for oil exploitation in the park. The Congolese National Oil Company (Sonahydro) has signed an “agreement in principle” to reassign Soco’s license to an unknown company, named Oil Quest International, a subsidiary of Oil Quest Holdings, an offshore oil company registered in the Isle of Man owned by Palestinian businessman Amjad Bseisu, Briton, Tom MacKay, adviser of the London-based Gemini Oil & Gas and Jon Ford, a former geologist at BP.
The director of this mysterious junior, Oil Quest Internationl is a French national named Rui Miguel Léon-Suberbielle. Coincidence? AEI notes that Mr. Léon-Suberbielle is none other than the son of the current president of Soco, Rui de Sousa, himself well know in the energy sector, former director of Gazprom Invest and president of Quantic Mining, a trading of mining and oil products, all of which are headquartered in Beirut. Second coincidence, noted by AEI: the man of Oil Quest in the Congo is the former representative of Soco in the country, José Sangwa Kanyunzi. Enough to suspect Soco wants to recover his block V by borrowing a false identity. But Mr. Rui de Sousa denies having any interest in the company run by his son.
DRC: Three Virunga Park Guards Killed in Mai-Mai Attack (in French)
A certainty: the game being played is important. The geologists of Soco and Oil Quest assume that on the Ugandan side of the border, the Irish firm Tullow Oil has discovered reserves of 1.7 billion barrels. This suggests a good chance that the five Congolese Rift alpine blocs will also contain valuable resources, as the oil slicks extend across the border.
However, such an exploitation project presents legal risks of being invalidated sooner or later. Independently of the reputational risk incurred by the operator to be presented internationally as an enemy of endangered fauna and flora. It is also for this reason, however, that in May 2013, the French giant Total, the holder of block III of the Congolese Rift Albertin, anxious to spare itself a stigma like that suffered by Shell because of pollution of the Niger Delta, committed itself in May 2013 not to carry out exploration within the current limits of the park on its block III.
During a meeting in the European Parliament in October 2014, the director of the Park, Emmanuel de Merode, told us: “The laws in the Congo are extremely clear. Oil exploitation in a World Heritage site is not allowed “, adding:” Article 215 of the Constitution provides that any international agreement ratified by the (National) Assembly shall take precedence over national laws “. “And thus, it is categorically illegal to explore oil within the Park in the current legislation,” he warned. On the same wavelength, UNESCO’s former Director-General Irina Bokova had several times threatened the Congolese authorities to withdraw the Virunga Park from the list of World Heritage sites if they authorized drilling within the site.
The Virunga Park Guards Do not Give Up Their Position (In French)
But then why are Sonahydro and the minister of Hydrocarbon, Aimé Ngoy Mukena looking into reviving this? The film Virunga shot with hidden camera by the director Orlando von Einsiedel reveals practices of corruption on the part of Soco. Are they willing to reopen the dirty money well? If so, at what level? Mr. Ngoy Mukena, former governor of Katanga, who has been accused by the International Crisis Group of having created May-May militias, is regarded as someone close to the Presidency …
By François Misser
(article translated from the French – unofficial translation see below)
Source: La Libre Afrique
Read More from Africa Energy Intelligence:
Who holds OilQuest Holdings’ capital?
Oil Quest Holdings, which is in talks with the Congolese authorities to recover block V that straddles the Virunga national […]
Who’s hiding behind Oil Quest, future operator of Virunga
In 2015, junior Soco International bowed to mounting pressure from environmentalists and chose to abandon its permit V located in the Virunga National Park. Now, a new company has been negotiating a renewal of the very same permit. Oil […]
Minister Mukena in a rush to get rid of block V
Cohydro and the minister are determined to sell off the strategic permit, formerly operated by Soco in Virunga Park, as fast as they can. […]