SOCO Response to WWF web article entitled ‘WWF deeply saddened by death of Virunga park protectors’
SOCO is shocked by the recent comments made on the WWF website linking SOCO to the further loss of life amongst the Virunga Park Protectors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
SOCO Deputy Chief Executive Roger Cagle has stated that:
“SOCO International plc is shocked and even hesitates to dignify this slur from WWF with a response. However, and for the record, SOCO regards any loss of park ranger life as tragic and the fact that the WWF has in any way linked this latest violence to SOCO is both reprehensible and disrespectful to the many that have died in the unfortunate decades of violence in this region. The fact that WWF is content to continue this line of attack shows a total disregard for the DRC people and all those whose lives may be positively affected by a change associated with potential and much needed commercial success in this part of the DRC.”
In reference to the inaccuracies presented by the WWF, we would like to clarify the following:
SOCO is involved in a part of the Virunga National Park at the express invitation of the DRC Government. This was formalised through a Production Sharing Contract signed in 2006 and ratified by a Presidential Decree in 2010. The DRC Government has determined that this contract is valid according to their legislation, and announced this in a letter to UNESCO in August 2012, which is available to view on the DRC Government website*. SOCO therefore has a contractual commitment with the DRC to continue with our activities in Block V. As we acknowledge, if the DRC Government decides that our involvement in Block V is no longer legal then we will of course stop all activities.
SOCO’s activities are at the preliminary phase of exploration, involving scientific studies to assess the petroleum resource potential of the region. We remain several years away from concluding these initial studies. At this stage, no drilling has been planned, or is even warranted, which is contrary to the claim made by the WWF article that ‘under SOCO plans, the lake will become a drilling site’.
The unsubstantiated allegation made by Lasse Gustavsson, Conservation Director of WWF International, that ‘increased oil exploration activities like those carried out by SOCO will just deepen the crisis in this fragile region’ also ignores the fact that responsibly conducted commercial activities can provide a measure of stability by enhancing regional economies, thereby raising living standards for local communities and helping to minimise the risk of further violence by giving everyone a shared financial incentive in maintaining the peace.
The claim made by the WWF that SOCO’s involvement in Block V might threaten the mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park is also incorrect. It is emphasised that Block V is not located in the mountainous Mikeno Sector, home to the famous Mountain Gorillas. Furthermore, SOCO has stated it will never seek to have operations in the Mountain Gorilla habitat, the Virunga Volcanoes or the Virunga equatorial rainforest.
SOCO International plc
Block V is an area of 7,500 sq km delineated by the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the purposes of hydrocarbon exploration. The Block is located in the southern Albertine Graben in Eastern DRC adjacent to the border with Uganda where there have been recent oil discoveries in the same geological basin. Block V includes a section of the Virunga National Park, which comprises Lake Edward on the DRC side and an area of lowland savannah south of Lake Edward.
In March 2011, the DRC Government commissioned a Strategic Environment Evaluation (‘SEE’) of the area covered by the Virunga National Park and Block V. Relevant to SOCO, the SEE includes scientific studies to assess the region’s petroleum resource potential, and it is this which forms the context for SOCO’s activities and permits. To carry out the studies, the DRC Government is utilising oil exploration companies, such as SOCO, with whom it had already signed production sharing agreements. This approach is described in a press release issued by the DRC Government in August 2012, which is available on its website*.