The controversy over British-based Soco exploring for oil in Virunga National Park has hardly abated when a company owned by Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler has discovered reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The crude’s been discovered around Lake Albert on Congo’s eastern border with Uganda. Analysis of seismic survey data “indicates around 3 billion barrels of oil in place”, equivalent to the reserves of oil producers Britain and South Sudan. It’s unclear what portion is recoverable – reserves and resources being different entities. Volumes should be considered provisional. Seismic estimates still need to be confirmed by a serious drilling campaign. Oil transportation from eastern Congo to export points on the shores of the Indian and Atlantic oceans would be a logistical and geopolitical minefield.
Oil of DRCongo operate blocks one and two at Lake Albert on behalf of Foxwhelp and Caprikat, both subsidiaries of Gertler’s Netherlands-based company Fleurette, which has several interests in Congo’s mining sector. “These are very positive results from our extensive seismic campaign,” said Giuseppe Ciccarelli, Oil of DRCongo’s CEO. “We believe the project will potentially provide significant revenues and multiple other benefits to the people of Congo.”
The nearby Ugandan blocks are estimated to hold a similar amount of oil and are being developed by British company Tullow , France’s Total and China National Offshore Oil Corp. Along with Vitol and other companies, Tullow Oil and Total are preoccupied at present pulling (onshore) staff out of West Africa due to the exhausting struggle to contain the Ebola epidemic there.
Oil of DRCongo plans to drill two exploration wells by ‘building infrastructure and relocating local communities’. Resource-rich Congo produces 25,000 barrels of oil per day and is seeking to increase production dramatically ‘to boost growth and relieve poverty’. Oil made up just 1.7% of Congo’s gross domestic product in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund. Oil of DRCongo said production of 50,000 barrels per day at Lake Albert would expand Congo’s economy by 25%. Who benefits from folk losing their homeland and livelihoods [b](100%)[/b] is another matter, if not concern.
Campaign groups such as Global Witness say Gertler, an influential figure in Congo with close ties to President Joseph Kabila’s government, received concessions at low prices before selling them on for large profits, particularly in a series of mining deals between 2010 and 2012. Gertler sold one of his Congo-based oil companies, Nessergy Ltd, to the government for $150 million – 300 times the amount paid for the oil rights. Gertler has joint Israeli and Congolese citizenship and says that his firm has invested more than $7 billion in the local economy. Of course he denies receiving favourable deals at knockdown prices.
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