Oil drilling in Virunga park put on hold

Posted: 22 March 2011

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is to withdraw permission to drill for oil in Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga. A World Heritage site, Virunga is home to a rich variety of birds, plants and animal, including the world famous mountain gorillas.

In a statement issued on March 17 the environment ministry declared that any activities relating to oil exploration on Virunga were to be suspended while the potential impact of such a project is assessed.

Mountain Gorilla. Photo: Ian Redmond/UNESCO
Mountain Gorilla
© Ian Redmond/UNESCO

Minister José E.B Endundo said he would not allow the UK-based company SOCO and Dominion to carry out any works within the park for now and said his government would initiate a thorough and transparent Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to decide whether such a project could be considered in one of the world’s most precious and fragile nature parks.

Andrew McVey, Species Officer at WWF-UK, welcomed the decision. "A thorough and transparent Strategic Environmental Assessment should ensure that the desires of the oil companies are not placed ahead of the needs of the local people and wildlife" he said. "This is the first step in the process and we will remain engaged and vigilant."

Drilling plans

WWF says that  "smart and well-planned economic development is needed to help the country and its people. Illegal, poorly managed and non-transparent efforts will only aggrevate conflicts and undermine park management and the wellbeing of local communities."

Virunga National Park is Africa's first National Park and is renowned for its extremely high biodiversity. Apart from its mountain gorillas it is home to important populations of elephant, chimpanzee and hippo.

Company maps indicate that SOCO, a UK-listed company,  intended drilling works throughout the park.The initial Environmental Impact Assesment is rejected by the ministry which calls it "premature and superficial”

WWF, whose 50th anniversary working to protect people and the natural world falls this year, has called on the Congolese government to guarantee there will be no oil exploration in the park and asks the UK-listed company to respect the law and "abandon its harmful exploration plans".