Africa

DRC Oil Exploration Raises Environmental Concerns

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The Democratic Republic of Congo opened an auction last week for drilling rights in 30 oil and gas blocks.

President Felix Tshisekedi called for companies to bid for the blocks, which are believed to have the potential to produce 22 billion barrels of oil and 66 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

Mbong Akiy Fokwa Tsafack, head of communication at Greenpeace Africa, an organization that advocates for environmental issues, said the drilling will destroy people’s lives.

Exploring for oil in this ecosystem is going to have an immediate and devastating effect on local communities. It will have an effect on their health, pollution of the air and water sources,” Tsafack said. “By this, we are not just talking about the destruction of the forest and the lakes that are beautiful. But this is not about the beauty of nature. These are essential biodiversity for the very livelihood of these people.”

Tshisekedi said modern technology would be used to protect the environment during the drilling.

However, environmentalists say some of the oil exploration blocks overlap parts of Congo’s most pristine ecosystems and the Virunga National Park, which is home to over 1,000 species of animals and birds.

The Congo Basin’s peatlands store an estimated 30 billion tons of carbon. Greenpeace says drilling in the area could release 5 billion tons of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere, accelerating global warming.

Tsafack said that could have disastrous consequences for Africa.

“Unleashing climate crisis will mean more drought, more floods, more heat waves, more extreme weather and, of course, higher food prices for everyone because droughts and floods always mean failed farmlands and which has also had a direct consequence on the food system,” Tsafack said.

However, there is a growing demand for Africa’s fossil fuels and some countries, like the DR Congo, are rushing to benefit from the global scramble for oil and gas.

Charles Wanguhu, of the Africa Climate Foundation, said it is too risky for the central African nation to get into the exploration of oil and gas as the world transitions to a low-carbon future.

“Congo is at the center of the climate conversation on both sides, so in terms of renewables, it’s critically there and it’s also in terms of if it’s able to benefit from its minerals for the transition,” Wanguhu said. “On the oil and gas side, it’s still a new area for them. The reality is before you start a project, an oil project and get from exploration to the final investment decision to actual production, it could take many years and that period of time that it will take for them to get there, the market might not be there.”

Many of the DRC’s 90 million people live on less than $2 a day, despite the country’s wealth of natural resources like gold, copper and cobalt.

Fighting over the resources, especially in the east, has made it difficult for the country to develop industries that provide good-paying jobs.

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