Soco, WWF strike deal to halt oil drive in Africa's oldest park

Jun 11, 2014
A pair of baby gorillas are seen at Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park, on September 22, 2012

Environmental campaigners WWF and oil exploration firm Soco International announced on Wednesday that the British firm had agreed to halt its hunt for oil in part of Africa's oldest national park.

In a joint statement, they said the WWF had in turn pledged not to pursue a complaint against Soco which it had filed with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The two sides have locked horns over plans to tap oil in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga park, home to 3,000 species including the endangered gorillas immortalised by the film "Gorillas in the Mist".

"Both parties look forward to working responsibly with the Democratic Republic of Congo and its people to ensure that future development benefits both people and the environment," Wednesday's statement said.

The 7,800-square-kilometre (3,000-square-mile) Virunga park was created in 1925 when the country was a Belgian colony.

Despite its own environmental rules and international accords, the government of the conflict-wracked but resource-rich republic in 2007 awarded oil concessions in much of the park.

The UN cultural body UNESCO has said and exploitation would breach Virunga's World Heritage site status, and in May last year French giant Total—Soco's fellow concession holder—said it would not drill there.

A peacekeeper of the Monusco, the UN mission in DR Congo, patrolls near an entrance to Virunga National Park, on March 11, 2014

Soco has already begun seismic testing in the area, though in a separate statement it underlined that no drilling commitments had ever been made.

"In relation to Virunga National Park we will complete our existing operational programme of work in Virunga which we anticipate will conclude within approximately 30 days of the date of this statement," Soco said in the joint statement.

"The company commits not to undertake or commission any exploratory or other drilling within Virunga National Park unless UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status," it added.

In addition, it said that it had committed not to conduct operations in any other World Heritage site.

In a separate company statement, Soco chairman Rui de Sousa underlined that the accord with the WWF also focused on the need for the Congolese government and UNESCO to "reach an agreement on the best way to combine development and the environment."

The WWF also issued a statement, in which its director general Marco Lambertini lauded the deal as "a victory for our planet and for good practices in business".

The park includes part of Lake Edward, a huge expanse of water whose fisheries generate an estimated $30 million (22 million euros) annually for local communities, according to the WWF.

The WWF has also said that the park has huge potential for the sustainable development of hydropower and ecotourism.

"If free from the threat of , Virunga can be a continuing source of hope for the people of DRC. As in other African countries, with proper investment, this park can become a leading economic driver for its communities," said Raymond Lumbuenamo, head of the WWF's operations in the country.

Explore further: WWF condemns oil search in Africa's oldest national park

Related Stories

HRW urges DR Congo to investigate attacks on activists

Jun 05, 2014

Human Rights Watch called Wednesday on the Democratic Republic of Congo to investigate attacks and threats against opponents of a major oil exploration project at one of Africa's oldest national parks.

Countries renew plan to protect mountain gorillas

Apr 08, 2014

The three countries home to mountain gorillas have agreed on new measures to conserve the critically endangered animals, and to maximize the economic benefits they bring to local communities.

Recommended for you

Keeping hungry jumbos at bay

6 hours ago

Until now electric fences and trenches have proved to be the most effective way of protecting farms and villages from night time raids by hungry elephants. But researchers think they may have come up with ...

Rare south-west fish suffers further decline

10 hours ago

Researchers have discovered that the range of one of Western Australia's rarest freshwater fishes, Balston's Pygmy Perch, could have declined by as much as 25 per cent.

Zoologists tap into GPS to track badger movements

11 hours ago

Zoologists from Trinity College Dublin's School of Natural Sciences are using GPS tracking technology to keep a 'Big Brother' eye on badgers in County Wicklow. By better understanding the badgers' movements and the reasons ...

Climate change costing soybean farmers

Mar 30, 2015

Even during a good year, soybean farmers nationwide are, in essence, taking a loss. That's because changes in weather patterns have been eating into their profits and taking quite a bite: $11 billion over ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.