British oil company SOCO agrees to cease operations in Congo’s Virunga National Park

 

A British oil company has agreed to end its controversial operations in Africa’s oldest national park following a campaign by environmentalists who warned of “devastating consequences” if drilling in the area proceeded.

SOCO International Plc, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and last year had revenues of £360m, said it had reached an agreement with the conservation group WWF to end exploratory work in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979 and the last refuge for the country’s mountain gorillas.

The oil and gas company was awarded permission to explore for oil in an area known as Block V, overlapping the Virunga park, by the DRC government in 2010, and had recently begun seismic and environmental surveys. It has repeatedly underlined that its work was taking place far from gorilla areas or rainforest.

The operations were nonetheless resolutely opposed by environmental groups and also drew criticism from the British Government, which said it was against all oil exploration within the national park or any other World Heritage Site.

The Virunga park, one of the world’s richest pockets of biodiversity, sits in eastern Congo and has been plagued by violence for decades, occupied by Congolese and Rwandan militia groups, including recently the notorious M23 rebel force.

In April, Belgian aristocrat Emmanuel de Merode, the park’s chief warden and an outspoken defender of its wildlife, was ambushed and shot in an apparent assassination attempt as he drove alone in a marked vehicle.

The WWF revealed last month that staff in the Congo had received alleged death threats because of the group’s opposition to oil exploration. There is no suggestion that SOCO was involved in either incident.

Last year, the WWF issued a formal complaint against the oil company that it had broken guidelines issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for multinationals operating abroad.

SOCO denied the claims but last week entered mediation with the WWF. It will announce today that once its current contract with the Congolese government for seismic and environmental studies is complete, it will cease operations in Virunga and undertake to not to conduct work at all World Heritage Sites.

David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said: “Today is a victory for our planet. Congolese people around Virunga were joined by scientists, lawyers, activists and artists, governments and WWF supporters to remove the immediate threat of oil exploration.”

The conservation group, which said it had set a precedent by using the OECD guidelines as a mechanism for safeguarding the environment, will now pressure the DRC government to cancel all oil concessions overlapping the park.

SOCO, which said it never got as a far as proposing or planning drilling in Virunga, is the latest oil company to pledge not to operate within World Heritage Sites. Shell promised in 2003 never to drill in such locations while French oil giant Total ditched plans to drill in Virunga last year.

In a statement, Ed Story, SOCO’s chief executive, said: “Hopefully we can all get back to activities focused on both people and the environment where it does the most good for a place that we think can have a better future.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Facilities & Project Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Facilities & Project Manager ...

Recruitment Genius: Software Testing Manager

£30000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

£17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Consultant - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ope...

Day In a Page

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash