SOCO International PLC, a British oil company exploring oil in Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has finally decided to end its operations in the area amidst pressure from World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
In a joint statement with WWF posted on the company’s website, SOCO has committed itself not to undertake any exploratory or other drilling activities within Virunga National Park unless UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status.
SOCO has been embroiled in a protracted negotiation with WWF through the UK National Contact Point and WWF had engaged in mass international campaign to have the oil exploration activities within the park stopped. According to the company officials, SOCO will complete its ongoing activities on Lake Edward within the next 30 days and after that they will stop operations.
Roger Cagle, the SOCO deputy Chief Executive Officer, said the oil company is pleased to work together with WWF to improve conditions in Virunga National Park and for its inhabitants.
The conclusion of this phase of work will give the DRC government vital information it will need in deciding how to proceed with oil exploration in Virunga National Park.
SOCO has carried out various environmental baseline studies on Block V, including fish and mollusc studies on Lake Edward and an inventory of the hippopotami population, relative to the seismic survey. The Company will continue to ensure that it conducts all of its operations in conformity with industry best practice and international standards.
WWF also said in a statement that Virunga can be a continuing source of hope for the people of DRC if it’s free from the oil threat.
Virunga is host to invaluable biodiversity and rare animal species such as the legendary and critically endangered mountain gorillas. Additionally, over 50,000 families depend on the park’s Lake Edward for jobs, food and drinking water. In an independent report commissioned by WWF, researchers found that the park could grow in value to over 400 million US dollars annually through activities such as ecotourism and fisheries.
WWF believes today’s commitment sends a message that World Heritage Sites and other fragile natural areas must be protected and the organization will continue to fight for these places.