Update 12th June 2014
UK oil company Soco has announced it will leave Virunga National Park and remain out of all other UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
This is exciting victory for our planet, which you have made happen along with support from 750,000 people across the world, government champions and activists within DRC. Together we’ve helped to remove the immediate threat of oil exploration in Africa’s oldest national park. This brings new hope for sustainable development in the park, where over 50,000 people rely on Lake Edward for their livelihoods.
Thank you – you have been an important part in the protection of Africa’s oldest national park. Together we’ll draw the line at World Heritage Sites under threat.
London-based oil company Soco International plc has begun seismic testing in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Lake Edward, despite campaigners’ attempts to stop exploration at the world heritage site. Conservation group WWF has called on Soco to withdraw from its blocks in UNESCO-protected Virunga National Park, saying that oil exploration will damage the most biodiverse park in Africa and is incompatible with its heritage status. Soco is the only company planning to explore for oil in Virunga, potentially turning Africa’s oldest National Park into the continent’s newest oilfield.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has one of the lowest per capital GDP in the world. On every global measure of human development, the Congolese feature in the bottom ranks; for example, 7 million children are denied schooling every day. Over the last 20 years the DRC has suffered Kinshasa Government misrule, bribery and widespread corruption. Three civil wars have resulted in millions of deaths. The conflicts were often over the control of resources.
Virunga Park has faced past (and continuing) threats from the civil wars, deforestation, charcoal trading, oil palm expansion, illegal residence, armed poaching and mining. 140 Park rangers have been killed in the past 10 years.
‘With enough action, pathos, suspense, venal villains, stalwart heroes and endangered gorillas for a dozen fiction films, Orlando von Einsiedel’s extraordinary documentary “Virunga” lays out the complex of deadly forces threatening the titular national park, an UNESCO-designated World Heritage site in eastern Congo. Bowed at Tribeca mere days after the park’s director — Emmanuel de Merode, a featured player in the film — narrowly survived after being shot four times, this rousing, must-see work, filmed amid flying bullets and racist conspirators, provides a dramatic front-row seat to a struggle whose moral integrity proves no guarantee against the superior firepower of greed and corruption.’
Established in 1925 in what was then the Belgian Congo, Virunga is Africa’s oldest and most venerable National Park, a Unesco-protected World Heritage Site. Straddling the Equator, with the snowcapped Rwenzoria mountains, 7 volcanoes, savannahs, swamps and lush equatorial rain-forests, the 2 million acre Park is rich in biodiversity. Outstanding fauna and flora abound; 706 bird species live in a haven which additionally hosts hippos, lions, elephants, reptiles and the remarkable okapi. There are 216 species in the region not found anywhere else on Earth. Virunga is the only place where you can see all three African great apes – eastern chimpanzees, eastern lowland gorillas and the endangered mountain gorillas, as featured in the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’.
A message from Virunga by Raymond Lumbuenamo. Short YouTube clip.
Half of the Park’s territory has been included in Block 5, which was awarded by the Kinshasa regime to UK oil company Soco International. Soco has described the area as a ”burnt-out savannah” with no ecosystem worth preserving. Soco is the only company proposing to explore for oil in Virunga.
Virunga: the quest to protect Africa’s oldest national park. YouTube clip.
Soco have already broken environmental and human rights guidelines by hiding from Virunga residents full details of what could potentially go wrong. A coalition of farmers based in the town of Kiwanja said that it has never been consulted regarding the oil project, and that as opposition grew, intimidating tactics were deployed to suppress resistance. The farmers called for the cancellation of Soco’s permit in Virunga, noting that the World Heritage Site is protected by national laws and international treaties.
New Scientist article – ‘Pressure mounts to save Africa’s Eden from drillers’
Inevitably, oil development involves road-building, population and equipment influx, pipeline-laying and the potential for pollution. It will impact adversely on wildlife, underground water systems, unique habitats and Virunga residents. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the Park. Virunga’s Lake Edward is a Ramsar site – a globally important wetland. Near the sources of the Nile, Lake Edward is crucial for protein, livelihood security, freshwater and food, especially fish. In April 2014 Soco started baseline studies and seismic tests, restricting access to Lake Edward. World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) has warned that drilling will introduce pollution and invasive plant life.
Some oil and gas extraction methods never should be used – hydraulic fracking, coalbed methane drilling and underground coal gasification leap to mind. Carbon has a price: there must be areas where the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels get left in situ, for example beneath the Utah tar sands and the Arctic Ocean. Safer, sustainable, financially viable alternatives to oil exploration (and for development) in Virunga National Park include eco-tourism and hydropower generation. Rejecting oil exploration, the Virunga Alliance have developed a plan to harness ‘renewable natural resources from the Park to create thousands of jobs and invest profits back into operations while supporting critical infrastructure development for local communities’. [link url=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-branson/virunga-national-park_b_5222851.html
Huffington Post, Virunga. A message from Richard Branson, Desmond Tutu & Howard G. Buffett
“IN THE OIL INDUSTRY, THE VALUE OF AN OIL AND GAS COMPANY IS MAINLY DETERMINED BY ITS RESERVES. SOCO’S PRIMARY ASSETS ARE ITS ENTITLEMENTS TO FUTURE PRODUCTION FROM RESERVES. ONE OF THE DISTINCT FEATURES OF THE INDUSTRY IS THE DEPLETING ASSET BASE AND THE NEED FOR REPLACEMENT THROUGH DRILLING AND ACQUISITION.”