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UN and conservation organizations condemn big oil’s plan to drill in Virunga National Park

WWF, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the UN have all recently expressed concerns about two oil companies’ plan to explore for oil in Africa’s oldest and famed Virunga National Park. Home to a quarter of the world’s mountain gorillas, as well as chimpanzees, hippos, lions, forest elephants, and rare birds Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of Africa’s most biodiverse parks and is classified by the UN as a World Heritage Site. But according to WWF plans by oil companies SOCO International and Dominion Petroleum could jeopardize not only the wildlife and ecosystems, but also local people.

“After so many years of conservation and money invested in the park by conservation groups, the international community and the government, it is devastating to see an oil company pursue profit with total disrespect for both the animals and the local Congolese,” reads a statement from WWF, which reports that 30,000 local people use Edward Lake for sustainable fishing. WWF warns that oil drilling threatens to pollute the lake.

According to Reuters, the UN program UNESCO also condemned the plan, warning DRC President Joseph Kabila not to move ahead with drilling in the park. Under the current agreement the two oil companies would garner 85% of the share of the oil drilling, while the DRC government would take 15%.

Finally, the IUCN has also expressed worry given the news.

“IUCN is seriously concerned about the negative impacts that oil exploration and exploitation within the Virunga National Park World Heritage Site would have on its exceptional habitats and species, including the Mountain Gorilla. The clear position of the World Heritage Committee on the issue of oil and gas exploration and exploitation within World Heritage Sites is that these activities are incompatible with World Heritage Status,” Tim Badman, Head of IUCN’s World Heritage Program told

For its part SOCO International argues that they can exploit the mineral resources with limited impact

“I don’t see any problem if it’s done correctly,” Roger Cagle, deputy CEO and CFO for SOCO International told Reuters.

Cagle also said that the oil companies could benefit the park by bolstering security efforts. Virunga has faced constant challenges due to on-going civil conflict in the DRC, including a well-publicized incident where several mountain gorillas were shot point-blank in the head. Conservation groups, however, are not persuaded.

“WWF calls on the Congolese government to guarantee and to enforce the existing oil exploration ban in the park designated World Heritage Site and asks the UK-listed companies to respect the law and international convention and to abandon their harmful plans for exploration,” the international conservation group says in a statement.

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