Virunga National Park drilling project, DR of Congo

Oil explorations have threatened the Virunga National Park, being one of the oldest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While activists face strong repression, international media have helped to bring large attention to the case.

The Virunga National Park is a 7,800 km2 park situated in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, next to the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Established by King Albert I of Belgium in 1925, it is Africa's oldest national park, the continent's most biologically diverse protected area and was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The park is particularly known for being the habitat of the critically endangered mountain gorilla, made famous by the film “Gorillas in the Mist”.
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Basic Data
NameVirunga National Park drilling project, DR of Congo
CountryCongo, Dem. Rep.
ProvinceIturi Region
SiteVirunga National Park
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific CommoditiesCrude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
SOCO had completed its seismic survey on Lake Edward on 13 June 2014 to gather data about subsurface rock formations under the lake on the DRC side.
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Project Area (in hectares) 780,000 hectares
Level of Investment (in USD)unknown
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population< 50,000
Start Date22/06/2010
Company Names or State EnterprisesSOCO International plc (SOCO) from United Kingdom - oil exploration
Relevant government actorsGovernment of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN)
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters• World Wildlife Fund UK, Virunga Campaign:

• Human Rights Watch:

• Global Witness:

• Virunga Alliance:

• Save Virunga:
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFishermen
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
International documentary film on the conflict
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination
Health ImpactsPotential: Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Criminalization of activists
Violent targeting of activists
Project cancelled
Development of AlternativesThe Virunga Alliance reported in its “Vision for Virunga” that investments in a green economy are projected to create up to 60,000 new and sustainable jobs by 2025 in 4 key sectors: renewable energy, agro-industry, sustainable fisheries and tourism.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.It seems that for now, as SOCO has stopped explorations within Virunga National Park in 2014, this case can be considered an environmental justice success. Hence, the future of oil explorations within the park remains unclear, as the government of DRC seems to pursue its intentions to drill within the park in the future.
Sources and Materials

SOCO International (2014), Approvals and Permits,
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Human Rights Watch (2014), DR Congo: Investigate Attacks on Oil Project Critics, 4 June 2014,
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SOCO International (2014), Letter from SOCO International to Human Rights Watch, 30 May 2014,
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Virunga under threat, WWF Homepage,
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Block V and the Virunga National Park, Current Status, SOCO International Homepage,
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Soco International's oil activity in world heritage park raises tricky questions for investors, by Mike Scott, 4 March 2014,
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The official site of Virunga National Park, DRC,
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Soco halts oil exploration in Africa's Virunga national park, by John Vidal, The Guardian, 11 June 2014,
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Congo troops guarding British firm 'killed peaceful protesters', by Martin Fletcher, Telegraph UK, 6 September 2014,
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Virunga film-makers ask viewers to join campaign against oil company Soco, by John Vidal, The Guardian, 5 November 2014,
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Oil Dispute Takes a Page From Congo's Bloody Past, by Jeffrey Gettleman, 15 November 2014,
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Wildlife tourism in Virunga gives new hope to Congo, by Joanna Natasegara, The Guardian, 29 November 2014,
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Church threatens to dump oil shares after Leonardo DiCaprio film, by Michael Allan McCrae,, 9 February 2015,
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Gorillas vs oil: DR Congo seeking way to explore the Virunga park, by Marc Jourdier, AFP, Yahoo News, 16 March 2015,
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Building and Benefiting from a Green Economy in Virunga, by Save Virunga, 16 March 2015,
[click to view]

Media Links

Virunga – Netflix Documentary (2014), Official Trailer:
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Other Documents

Park rangers Source:
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Lake in the national park Source:
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Meta Information
Last update08/07/2015