Despite widespread opposition, including from the UK government, British oil firm SOCO plans to begin tests next week to determine the probability of the existence of recoverable oil beneath Virunga National Park’s Lake Edward.
Virunga, a 7,800 square kilometre (3,000 square mile) World Heritage Site in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to many endangered species of flora and fauna, including 200 mountain gorillas. The area of outstanding natural beauty was declared ‘in danger’ by UNESCO in 1994. It is believed that oil extraction will threaten the park’s fragile ecosystem and contaminate the land, water and air.
SOCO claims that it ‘will never seek to have operations in the Mountain Gorilla habitat.’ The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, however, opposes the planned testing beneath Lake Edward because of the park’s status as an endangered World Heritage Site. The FCO has called on SOCO to surrender its exploration rights and urged the DRC to respect the international conventions to which it is a signatory.
Emmanuel de Mérode, the Belgian Chief Warden of the park, was shot last week and has been airlifted to Nairobi for treatment. In a statement, SOCO condemned violence and denied rumours linking the company to the attack.
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The Wall Street Journal