French oil giant Total to keep out of Virunga World Heritage Site



Posted on 03 June 2013  | 
Park guards patrolling on the boundary of Virunga National Park. Democratic Republic of the Congo.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEYEnlarge
In response to an open letter from WWF to Total’s investors, the company has confirmed it will not explore for oil within the current boundaries of Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Total Chairman and CEO Christophe de Margerie announced this landmark decision for corporate social and environmental responsibility at a shareholder meeting in May.

Total has been operating at the edge of the prized national park, and WWF was concerned that possible future boundary changes could open a loophole that would allow for drilling in sensitive habitats, endangering wildlife and sustainable local livelihoods.

Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park, a World Heritage Site and a Ramsar wetland of international importance. Located on the equator, it contains the most diverse habitats of any park in Africa, from forests and savannahs, to swamps and volcanic peaks. The park is rich in natural biodiversity, a refuge for critically endangered mountain gorillas as well as endangered chimpanzees, hippos, and forest elephants.

The pristine wilderness is protected under Congolese and international law but oil concessions cover 85% of its surface. Major oil developments could involve disruptive seismic tests, forest clearing, deep underground drilling, the laying of vulnerable oil pipelines and demand an increased human presence.

Total is not the only company to pursue plans for oil extraction. WWF urges British oil exploration company Soco International PLC to immediately stop all activities in the park and make a similar commitment.

WWF commissioned an independent opinion poll to gauge public support for protection of World Heritage Sites from oil and gas extraction. Eight out of 10 French citizens say they would “very much” like French companies to promise not to exploit such places and said that they would be more likely to buy from an oil company that had done so.

Posted: May 17 2013 Updated: June 3 2013
Park guards patrolling on the boundary of Virunga National Park. Democratic Republic of the Congo.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY Enlarge

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