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Created on: 2022-02-08 12:37:49
Last update: 2022-09-28 00:00:00 BankTrack
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|Sector||Oil and Gas Extraction|
About Oil and gas exploration Virunga National Park
Established as the first African national park in 1925, Virunga National Park is the continent’s oldest protected area. Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) eastern provinces, its outstanding biodiversity makes it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Virunga has faced extraction threats since the turn of the millennium. South Africa’s Efora Energy received exploration permits for the area and in July 2022, the DRC launched tenders for 30 oil and gas blocks, including two blocks that encroach into Virunga. The consequences for Virunga remain unclear, but UNESCO has repeatedly stated that these explorations are inconsistent with conservation goals. Meanwhile, Uganda’s expanding Ngaji oil block is in Lake Edward, of which two thirds lie inside the Virunga National Park.
Why this profile?
The Virunga National Park is part of the Congo Basin, the second-largest rainforest after the Amazon. It supports endangered species, valuable biodiversity and the wellbeing of more than 50,000 people. Any oil extraction in this fragile area threatens these benefits, as well as climate stability worldwide.
What must happen
Banks and other financial institutions should not provide services for companies considering oil and gas exploration or extraction in Virunga National Park. The government of the DRC must cancel all fossil fuel exploration permits for blocks inside Virunga (and also in Salonga national park). Additional permits and licences for protected areas and sensitive ecosystems should be avoided.
Impact on human rights and communities
Socioeconomic deterioration in the Virunga area is likely to follow oil and gas extraction. Hydrocarbon pollution related to extraction and transport would have a serious impact on the health and food security of those relying on Lake Edward’s fish, as raised in 2020 via a letter to President Tshisekediby from local fishermen. Water contamination would also spread to the Semliki River, while the development of oil infrastructures would conflict with the area’s tourism economy.
The risk of dangerous volcanic activity will rise if drilling takes place near the park’s eight volcanoes, posing a threat to the land and livelihoods of local communities. The African Conservation Foundation has drawn parallels between Virunga National Park and Indonesia, where 30,000 people were displaced in a volcanic eruption during 2006. The volcano is expected to continue erupting until at least 2031, which 74 geologists have agreed is a direct result of oil and gas drilling.
The worsening of tensions between local communities and factions is anticipated by crisis experts: Eastern DRC has been torn by violence for years and oil exploration could exacerbate this. Research shows that conflict already blighted Virunga National Park’s communities before the discovery of oil, sparked by minimal consultation on park management, controversial land demarcation and disparate resource access. Oil extraction would demand portions of the area’s available land and could fuel these conflicts.
Increasingly violent state-sanctioned repression is likely against groups opposing the auctioning and in response to tensions created by fossil fuel development, based on Congolese precedent. Environmental campaigners and Virunga park rangers alike have been punished by the authorities for trying to protect animals and biodiversity. The ranger Rodrigue Katembo was imprisoned in 2013 for campaigning against Soco International intimidation, while the Virunga National Park Chief Warden Emmanuel de Mérode was ambushed and shot in 2014. In July 2017, five DRC park rangers were murdered in a single weekend. Such repression has historically been inflamed by corrupt relations between DRC government officials and oil companies.
Impact on climate
Local greenhouse gas emissions will increase as Virunga National Park’s carbon storage systems are cleared for development. Virunga is located at the eastern end of the Congo Basin rainforest, which is the second largest after the Amazon. These massive ecosystems are essential for carbon sequestration and climate regulation. Furthermore, fossil fuel expansion is not in line with the International Energy Agency’s 2050 net-zero roadmap, which puts oil and gas exploration in Virunga directly at odds with efforts to mitigate climate change.
Impact on nature and environment
Further damage to Virunga’s wildlife and biodiversity is a projected outcome of gas and oil exploration in the national park, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list since 1979. The park covers 790,000 hectares and comprises various ecosystems including a tropical forest, the Rwenzori Mountains and several volcanoes. These environments are home to unique flora and fauna including okapis, large hippo colonies and around 200 critically endangered mountain gorillas.
The corruption of government officials has historically accompanied oil expansionism in DCR. During the early 2010s, the exploratory activities of Pharos Energy (called Soco at the time) in the Virunga National Park triggered multiple accusations of corruption and intimidation against the British oil company. A 2014 Global Witness report reveals that opponents of Soco were physically abused, while the company engaged in bribery with Congolese members of parliament and attempted to install spies among Virunga’s park rangers.
USA and DRC to form Congo Basin environmental conservancy working group
During a visit to the DRC by the US secretary of state, the two countries have announced the formation of a working group to devise ways to protect the Congo Basin rainforest and peatlands. The group will focus on “responsible development of the country’s resources” and “rigorous environmental impact assessments”.
DCR to auction Virunga oil and gas permits
The Democratic Republic of Congo has added UNESCO world heritage sites to a roster of oil and gas permits up for auction on 28th and 29th July in Kinshasa. The blocks of land being auctioned incorporate peatlands and the Virunga National Park, both of which hold high environmental value. Interested companies reportedly include Tullow Oil Plc, TotalEnergies and ENI and China National Offshore Oil Corporation Ltd (CNOOC).
Efora granted DRC Block III extension as Total opts out
South Africa’s Efora Energy has been granted an extension on its exploration licence for Block III in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The extension expires in July, when the licence will be up for renewal. Until then, Efora will be assessing which parts of Block III to retain based on the “most prospective and operationally viable” areas. Meanwhile, Total E&P RDC has relinquished its 66.7% interest in Block III, which could be taken on by Efora. Block III lies to the north of the DRC’s Virunga National Park.
DRC considers opening up Virunga to oil companies
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s ministry of hydrocarbons says it is considering declassifying around 1,720 square kilometres of the Virunga National Park (21.5% of its total surface area) to permit oil exploration in protected areas. Hydrocarbons Minister Aimé Ngoi Mukena says the country’s 2015 Oil Law allows the president to authorise oil exploration in national parks if it serves the public interest.
DRC’s Block V reopens to oil prospectors
The DRC’s national oil company (Société Nationale des Pétroles du Congo) has signed an “agreement in principle” to reassign a block of land for oil exploration. Known as Block V, it was relinquished by Soco in 2014 and covers environmentally sensitive areas of the DRC.
Bids for Ugandan oil exploration rights underway
Sixteen companies have received approval from the Ugandan government to bid for oil exploration rights in and around Lake Edward. Uganda wishes to exploit six blocks in this environmentally sensitive area, including the Ngaji oil block. Ngaji incorporates the Queen Elizabeth National Park and Lake Edward, which are situated alongside the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park.
Oil found in Virunga National Park
Following seismic assessments by the British oil company Soco, the Congolese government has confirmed the presence of oil beneath the Virunga National Park.
DRC seeks to redraw Virunga boundaries in oil hunt
The Congolese prime minister Matata Ponyo is in talks with UNESCO to redraw the boundaries of the DRC’s Virunga National Park World Heritage Site to facilitate oil exploration.
Soco halts oil and gas exploration in Virunga
Following pressure from conservationists, UNESCO and the British government, Soco International Plc has announced that it will pull out of the Virunga National Park. The British oil company had been prospecting for oil and gas in the world heritage site.
Total tells WWF it will stay out of Virunga
Responding to an open letter from WWF to Total investors, the French energy giant has said that it will not explore for oil within the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park. Total is currently operating in the area, including at the edges of the park’s boundaries.
Soco awarded production permit
Today the British oil company Soco confirmed it has officially been awarded the concession for Block V in the Albertine Graben area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a Production Sharing Agreement with the DRC’s state oil company and Dominion Petroleum Congo SPRL. Block V includes a section of Lake Edward.
As yet, there is no evidence of bank finance for oil and gas exploration in the Virunga National Park. BankTrack continues to monitor the situation.