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April 19, 2024
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Democratic Republic Of Congo: concern over the potential development of oil drilling.

Democratic Republic Of Congo (DRC), a central African country rich in minerals, also has significant oil reserves. Drilling so far has been limited to a small area along the Atlantic Ocean and offshore, but that is likely to change if the government succeeds in auctioning 30 oil and gas blocks spread across the country. the country.

Leaders say economic growth is essential for their impoverished people, but some communities, rights groups, and environmental watchdogs warn that expanded drilling will harm the landscape and human health.

Pollution

Since the Franco-British hydrocarbon company Perenco began drilling in Moanda territory in 2000, residents say pollution has worsened, with spills and leaks degrading the soil and flaring – the intentional burning of natural gas near drilling sites – polluting the air they breathe. According to them, the Congolese government exercises little control.

Perenco said its extraction methods met international standards, posed no health risks and any pollution was minor. The company also said it was proposing to support a power plant that would use natural gas and thereby reduce flaring.

The government did not respond to questions about the proposed plant. Congolese Oil and Gas Minister Didier Budimbu said the government was committed to protecting the environment.

The DRC is home to most of the Congo Basin rainforest, the second largest in the world, and most of the world’s largest tropical peatland, composed of partially decomposed plant material from wetlands. Together, these two areas capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide – around 1.5 billion tonnes per year or around 3% of global emissions. More than a dozen parcels up for auction straddle protected areas of peatlands and rainforests, including Virunga National Park, home to some of the world’s rarest gorillas.

Poverty

The government said the 27 available oil blocks contain an estimated 22 billion barrels of oil. Environmental groups say auctioning more land for drilling would have consequences both at home and abroad.

“Any new oil or gas project anywhere in the world fuels the climate and nature crisis we find ourselves in,” said Mbong Akiy Fokwa Tsafak, program director for Greenpeace Africa. According to her, Perenco’s activities have done nothing to alleviate poverty, but rather have degraded the ecosystem and burdened the lives of communities.

Environmental advocates believe that the DRC has strong potential to develop renewable energy, notably solar energy, as well as small-scale hydroelectricity. The DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, a key component of electric vehicle batteries and other products critical to the global energy transition, although cobalt mining comes with its own environmental and human risks.

Mr Budimbu said now was not the time to move away from fossil fuels while the country was still dependent on them. He added that dependence on fossil fuels will be phased out in the long term.

Rich in biodiversity, Moanda borders the Mangrove National Park, the country’s only protected marine area. Perenco has been under scrutiny for years, with local researchers, aid groups, and the Congolese Senate reporting numerous cases of pollution dating back more than a decade. Two civil society organizations, Sherpa and Friends of the Earth France, filed a lawsuit in 2022, accusing Perenco of pollution caused by oil extraction; this action is still in progress.

Health

In a rare visit by international media to the oil fields, including two villages near the drilling, The Associated Press spoke with dozens of residents, local officials, and rights groups. the man. Residents say the drilling has come closer to their homes and they have seen pipes break regularly, spilling oil into the ground. They blame air and soil pollution for making it difficult to grow crops and causing health problems such as skin rashes and respiratory infections.

They say Perenco responded quickly to leaks and spills but failed to tackle the root problems.

The media visited drilling sites, sometimes just a few hundred yards from homes, where pipes were exposed and corroded. They also saw at least four sites where natural gas was flared, a technique that manages pressure by burning the gas that is often used when it is not practical or cost-effective to collect it. The media did not see any active spill sites.

Between 2012 and 2022 in the DRC, Perenco burned more than 2 billion cubic meters of natural gas, a carbon footprint equivalent to that of around 20 million Congolese, according to the Environmental Investigative Forum, a global consortium of journalists from the environmental investigation. The group analyzed data from Skytruth, a group that uses satellite imagery to monitor threats to the planet’s natural resources.

According to the International Energy Agency, flaring of natural gas, which is mainly composed of methane, emits carbon dioxide, methane, and black soot and harms health.

Oil spill

But residents say some of those benefits are exaggerated. The dispensary built by Perenco in a village has no medicines and few people can afford to pay to see the doctor.

And when Perenco compensates for the damage caused by the oil leak, residents say it’s not enough.

Farmer Tshonde says she received about $200 when an oil spill destroyed her mangoes, avocados, and corn eight years ago. But its losses were more than twice as high. The lasting damage caused to her land by Perenco’s activities has forced her to seek other sources of income, such as felling trees to sell as charcoal.

Many other farmers whose land has been degraded are doing the same, and the vegetation cover is disappearing, she said.

Didier Budimbu, the Minister of Hydrocarbons, argues that Congolese laws prohibit drilling near homes and fields and that oil operators are required to take the necessary measures to prevent and clean up oil pollution. However, he did not specify what the government was doing in response to community complaints.

The DRC has struggled to find bidders since the auction launched in July 2022. Three companies – two American and one Canadian – have positioned themselves on three methane gas blocks in Lake Kivu, on the border with Rwanda. The government said in May that it was close to closing those tenders, but did not respond to questions from the media in January about whether those deals were finalized.

No deals have been confirmed for the 27 oil blocks, and the deadline for expressions of interest has been extended until the end of the year. Late last year, Perenco withdrew from bidding for two blocks in the province, near where it currently operates. The company did not respond to the media questions about the reasons for its withdrawal, but GreentvAfrica Intelligence reported that Perenco had assessed that the blocks did not have sufficient potential.

Drilling

Some groups have criticized what they see as a lack of transparency in the block auction process, meaning that “local communities are kept in the dark about plans to exploit their land and their resources,” says Joe Eisen, executive director of the Rainforest Foundation UK.

Some communities, to which the government has failed to provide jobs and basic services, say they have no choice but to bet on allowing more drilling.

In the village of Kimpozia, near one of the auctioned areas, some 150 people live nestled in the forest, without a school or hospital. Residents have to walk up steep hills and ride a motorbike for five hours to reach the nearest health clinic and walk several hours to get to school.

Louis Wolombassa, the village chief, believes that the village needed road construction and other forms of assistance. “If they come and bring what we want, let them drill . ”

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