New DRC oil bill would weaken protection for national parks, NGO says



Posted on 11 September 2013  | 
Sunrise behind Mount Mikeno, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa
© naturepl.com / Christophe Courteau / WWF-CanonEnlarge
International NGO Global Witness said Friday that an oil bill soon to be up for a vote by Congolese parliament should be suspended, and not advanced unless measures are included to prevent corruption and ensure protection of the environment.

DRC’s draft hydrocarbon code is expected to be voted on by the lower house of parliament in the upcoming parliamentary session due to start next week, and as currently framed would not only increase the risk of corruption in the sector but leaves open the possibility of drilling in Democratic Republic of Congo’s national parks and World Heritage Sites, such as Virunga National Park.

Article 24 of the draft law would allow exploration to take place in “protected areas” if a council of ministers decided that this was in the public interest.

British oil company Soco International PLC has gained the rights to explore for oil in an eastern DRC block, which includes part of Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park.

The park is home to over 3,000 different kinds of animals, including critically endangered mountain gorillas and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, currently listed as in danger. Oil concessions have been allocated covering 85% of the park.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has expressed concern over the new law and called for the cancellation of all oil permits in Virunga National Park.

A WWF report released last month showed that Virunga could be worth US$1.1 billion per year if developed sustainably, rather than being given over to potentially-damaging oil extraction.

As part of a campaign to protect Virunga, WWF is calling on Soco to abandon its plans to explore for oil in Virunga and all other World Heritage Sites.
Sunrise behind Mount Mikeno, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa
© naturepl.com / Christophe Courteau / WWF-Canon Enlarge
Residents rally to protect Virunga National Park from oil exploration.
© IDPE Enlarge

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