Oil found under Congo wildlife park

  • 07/11/2015
Tourists in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters)
Tourists in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters)

Seismic tests in Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park, Africa's oldest wildlife reserve which is famed for its mountain gorillas, have confirmed the presence of oil, the Congolese government says.

Tests carried out by British oil company Soco had returned "positive" on the presence of oil deposits, Minister of Hydrocarbons Aime Ngoy Mukena said.

On the question of "whether there is an oil field" underneath the park, the study answered "yes", he said, without giving further details.

The announcement was likely to reignite a heated debate within DRC over the merits of exploring for oil in the vast park, which covers about 7800 square kilometres of lush forest, glaciated peaks and savannas in the restive eastern province of North Kivu.

The UNESCO world heritage site reopened to tourists last year after being closed for two years because of militia violence in the region.

UNESCO has warned several times that any exploration for oil in the park would be "incompatible" with its heritage status.

The Congolese government has in the past promoted prospecting for oil in Virunga as offering a chance to lift the vast country out of poverty.

In 2010, the government awarded several oil concessions straddling the park's boundaries, including giving "block V" to Soco, but suspended the permits following a domestic and international outcry.

Soco has since been allowed to carry out tests to establish the environmental impact of possible oil exploration in the park, however, and opponents fear the government may award the licences to another company.