In 2014 the British oil exploration firm Soco, carried out seismic readings in the Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, looking for viable deposits. According to Soco, after giving the results of the findings to the DRC government, they would take no further part in exploration within the park.
If people don’t matter – why should a few Mountain Gorillas?
A World Heritage site, Virunga Park contains Lake Edward. An estimated 30,000 locals rely on the lake for food and income, selling their catch in the local markets. It is also home to the endangered Mountain Gorillas, of which just some 700 remain.
The Virunga National Park covers 3,000 sq miles (7,800 sq km) and is of huge ecological interest being one of the most diverse regions in the world. It has already suffered continuously from the activities of various warring factions over the years.
The Mountain Gorillas have been pursued by poachers almost to the point of extinction. It’s only because of the dogged determination by the likes of the late Dian Fossey and others, that over the last few years a small increase in numbers has been noticed. If oil exploration inside or outside the park is allowed to continue it may well reverse all that good work.
The truth is out there – if you can find it:
It appears there may well be some double dealing going on. While Soco has said it will carry out no further exploration work in the park, the Congolese government maintains it is involved in ongoing talks with UNESCO to get the borders of the park changed. UNESCO, on the other hand, has said they have received no formal request from the government, to discuss changing the park’s boundaries.
The DRC admit the change of boundary is for continued oil exploration. Should the park’s borders be reduced, what’s to stop Soco continue with its seismic readings, maintaining it is now operating outside the park’s boundaries? Failing that, Soco could sell its licence to another oil exploration company.
The signs are not good:
While the Congolese government admit it was Soco who first bought to their attention they were operating within a protected area, Soco haven’t been included in any talks with UNESCO.
Soco was originally granted an oil exploration licence in 2010, but criticism from human rights campaigners, and conservationists, kept them at bay until 2014 when exploration began. This led to more heavy criticism from campaigners, including the World-Wide Fund for Nature.
The usual rhetoric of, ‘ the necessity of finding middle ground, preserving nature while gaining profit, and we want to improve living conditions for the local people’, pours forth from the mouths of politicians. Past history has proven otherwise. In 2014, a sub-contractor of Soco was accused of making payments to soldiers, to intimidate opponents of the exploration, including threats of murder.
Should exploration find the expected oil, then all bets, and agreements, are off. Large areas of forest will be destroyed to make way for heavy plant getting to and from drilling sites, and the installation of pipe work to ship the oil. Fishing within the lake will be heavily restricted, loss of fish will ensue from the pollution, and livelihoods will be destroyed. The already reducing habitat of the Mountain Gorillas will likely be devastated. Noise, and pollution from leaking pipes, will drive this secretive species into a smaller and smaller area. Dwindling food resources, and continued intrusion into their habitat by man, will eventually see the demise of these gentle creatures, who just want to be allowed to live.
Lessons from Nigeria:
On the African continent, corruption and oil exploration appear to go hand in hand. Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, is no stranger to corruption scandals. There was uproar when the governor of Nigeria’s central bank stated that the national energy company was missing $20 billion from its oil revenues. Royal Dutch Shell reported the theft of over $1 billion worth of natural gas and oil, and the Nigerian Navy announced it had closed over 260 illegal oil refineries. All the while the President, Goodluck Jonathan, maintained he would audit the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation.
In 2012, Nigeria’s GDP was the second largest in sub-Saharan Africa, with 96% of exports coming from oil. None-the-less, although Nigeria joined OPEC back in the 1970’s, none of this wealth has filtered down to the ordinary people. There has been no increase in income for the average Nigerian, and poverty remains at the same level.
Democratic Republic of Congo:
As much as it would be nice to think otherwise, there is no reason to believe the DRC would be any different when oil drilling eventually begins – and it’s odds on it will. Promises will be made regarding the environment and wellbeing of forests and wildlife – even as forests are being felled and lakes polluted.
Money will flow from one account to another, and the authorities will clamp down heavily on locals who voice their concern. People will be forced to move away from areas where, for many years they have lived, and made a living. Little or no compensation will be paid.
Unmonitored oil spills will devastate the flora and fauna, and the Mountain Gorilla will become another animal of the past. Seen only on the likes of National Geographic…or the History Channel.
Images care of: By ShavPS (IMG_3121.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Indian Navy [CC BY 2.5 in (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/in/deed.en) or CC BY 2.5 in (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/in/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
By http://www.flickr.com/photos/deepphoto/ d_proffer (http://www.flickr.com/photos/deepphoto/463717646/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Young Mountain Gorilla Uploaded by Dolovis) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A British expat who has lived on this Island of Tenerife for over twelve years.A full time freelance writer, most of my time is spent article writing. I also write on D2C, Writedge, and wherever takes my fancy. For fun I try to increase my portfolio of short stories, with a view to eventually getting them published.