Why is Oil Exploration Controversial in Congo?

Aug 07 2018 Read 282 Times

From disrupting Arctic whale migration to polluting water sources in North America, habitat destruction is an ongoing issue associated with the oil and gas industry. Now, environmental groups are warning that mountain gorillas in the Congo could face grave risk if the Central African nation gives the green light on oil research.

Concerns are growing amid plans to approve oil exploration in Virunga and Salonga National Parks, two of the most important wildlife reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last month the country's cabinet approved the formation of an inter-institutional committee created to release parts of Virunga and Salonga to permit crude exploration.

Land releases a major threat for mountain gorillas

Virunga National Park is currently home to around 1000 mountain gorillas, a critically endangered subspecies of the eastern gorilla. It's the continent's oldest national park and is also a key habitat for a throng of iconic African animals, including lions, hippos, elephants and the unique okapi, also known as the zebra giraffe.

Salonga National Park, located in the Congo River basin, is the second-largest tropical rainforest reserve on the planet and is home to forest elephants, giant pangolins and around 40% of the world bonobo population. Both are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, though the committee will discuss releasing over 20% of Virunga and around 40% of Salonga.

World Wildlife Fund urges DRC to reconsider

The loss of habitat would be a major blow for the Congo's delicate natural ecosystem, with the World Wildlife Fund, a co-managing party of Salonga National Park, urging the government to rethink its decision.

"Extractive activity poses a grave risk to their exceptional flora and fauna as well as the lives and livelihoods of neighbouring communities,” warns WWF Congo spokesman Dandy Yela.

The calls come four years after UK oil company SOCO International signed a joint declaration with the World Wildlife Fund pledging to end oil exploration operations in Virunga National Park. Now, the organisation is pleading with the Democratic Republic of Congo government to protect its outstanding natural habitats and ban all oil concessions within the parks.

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