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UK oil exploration company agrees to cease operations in Virunga National Park, DRC


19 June 2014 Successes
Overview of Virunga National Park, where SOCO had been given permission to operate Overview of Virunga National Park, where SOCO had been given permission to operate © 2008 Wildlife Extra

The UK oil exploration company SOCO has agreed to withdraw from Virunga National Park, a World Heritage site in the Democratic Republic of Congo, following pressure from environmental campaigners.

SOCO received permission from the DRC government to explore for oil in the park in 2010 but has agreed to withdraw from Virunga after concluding its current operational activities, which include seismic testing in Lake Edward. 

In October 2013, WWF filed a complaint against SOCO under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, warning that drilling for oil in the national park could lead to severe environmental damage. SOCO’s decision to wrap up their operation followed mediation between them and WWF.

“Today is a victory for our planet and for good practices in business. This success is the work of government officials, activists within DRC and supporters worldwide who joined together to help remove the most immediate threat to Virunga,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “Now is the time for the DRC government to reaffirm its conviction that Virunga has outstanding universal value for all humanity by cancelling all oil concessions overlapping the park as requested by UNESCO.” 

Virunga National Park, which is situated on the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on the border of Uganda and Rwanda, is Africa’s most biologically diverse protected area, spread over an area of 3,000 square miles and home to critically endangered mountain gorillas, eastern lowland Grauer’s gorillas, chimpanzees, and the endangerd Okapi.

Additionally, over 50,000 families depend on the park’s Lake Edward for jobs, food and drinking water. In and independent report commissioned by WWF, researchers found that the park could grow in value to over US$400 million annually through activities such as ecotourism and fisheries.

“If free from the threat of oil, Virunga can be a continuing source of hope for the people of DRC,” said Raymond Lumbuenamo, Country Director of WWF-DRC. “As in other African countries, with proper investment, this park can become a leading economic driver for its communities. This is the moment for the international community to support DRC and help us bring lasting change that will ensure Africa’s first national park remains the mother park of Africa.”

Later this month governments will gather in Doha, Qatar for the annual meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to discuss the conservation status of Virunga, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, Doñana National Park in Spain, and other sites of concern. 

“For the 750,000 individuals that joined this effort, and the millions more who empower the work of WWF and its partners we have a clear message: thank you for your invaluable support and stay close to us; our work is not done,” said Lambertini. “We have more to do in Virunga and we must now expand this effort to work with governments and businesses around the globe to remove the increasing pressures that put these World Heritage Sites in danger.”

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June 2014 | © 2008 Wildlife Extra

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