Despite intense international opposition and local protests, British company Soco International PLC will begin the seismic testing phase of its hugely controversial Virunga National Park oil exploration project.
According to residents who live near the park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), parts of Lake Edwards will be shut to fishing whilst the company explores for oil reserves. If oil deposits are indeed found then the WWF says it believes the company will drill oil exploration wells on the lake
“WWF condemns in the strongest terms Soco’s unacceptable operations in Virunga National Park. It is irresponsible for Soco to disregard the national and international laws protecting this World Heritage Site. The company is putting the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk,” said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Conservation at WWF International.
The fishery at Lake Edwards is responsible for annual income of US$30 million for the people who live near Virunga National Park says WWF who commissioned a study which also found that 50,000 households depend on the lake for their drinking water.
Apart from the loss of revenue and fishing jobs, the environmental report commissioned by Soco itself suggests that exploratory drilling could result in air pollution, water contamination, pulmonary diseases, and habitat loss in the incredibly fragile ecosystem.
The British foreign office reiterated concerns by expressing its opposition to the Soco’s plan in Virunga. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has also voice strong objections as well as EU member states.
“Fishermen, farmers and local entrepreneurs who depend on Virunga are objecting vehemently to Soco’s presence in their park, and numerous members of the international community have joined them. Virunga could be a source of hope for eastern DRC if is fisheries, hydropower and ecotourism potential is developed sustainably. Soco should not be allowed threaten the future of this irreplaceable park. As a publically-traded company, Soco is accountable to its shareholders. We urge investors to reject exploration in Africa’s oldest and most biodiverse national park,” Gustavsson said.