Oil Exploration in the Congo Rainforest
RELATED POST: Oil Exploration: A Looming Threat in Congo
It’s too early to celebrate, but some rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has gotten at least a temporary reprieve.
Government officials had said last year they would announce in January 2023 which oil companies would be bidding on leases to drill in 27 sensitive areas. The proposed leases had sent tremors through the global conservation community when the drilling plans were disclosed last spring and expanded a few months later.
The affected areas include an estimated 27.7 million acres of rainforest and 2.5 million acres of carbon-rich peatland, a vital store of carbon. The areas are the home to a rich community of wildlife, including the critically endangered bonobos.
Congolese leaders defended the move as important for improving the lives of their citizens, who rank among the poorest in the world. But a number of observers pointed out that hydrocarbon extraction in African nations has devastated the environment while benefiting only wealthy individuals and corporations.
As the months went by, Greenpeace Africa reportedly compiled a list of at least 11 oil companies including Total, Eni, Shell, and Exxon Mobil that had indicated they were not interested in pursuing the leases. Others, however, including Chevron, Perenco, and Tullow Oil had not revealed their intentions.
Aerial View of Ekolo ya Bonobo Community Reserve, protected peat land and home to endangered bonobo apes. Video by Leon Haberkorn.
Some observers felt relieved January 28 when DRC hydrocarbons minister, Didier
Budimbu, tweeted that the deadline for any announcements was being pushed back.
Bidding on three of the most controversial oil blocks, within the Cuvette Centrale peatlands
and rainforest, was being postponed to July and August, according to a Climate Home News
report, with the deadlines for other areas spread between April and October of this year.
Just days later, a coalition of civil society groups called for the immediate cancellation of the
lease auction in light of allegations that Budimbu had made a secret deal with Nigerian
gambling tycoon Chukwuma Ayodeji Ojuroye and GeoSigmoid, an American oil and gas
Another development came to light March 1 when British newspaper The Guardian
reported that a New York investment firm intended to bid $400 million for the Congolese oil concessions. The aim of the biodiversity fintech company, EQX Biome, reportedly is to turn the areas into conservation projects.
The Guardian reported that rather than drill for oil in the leased areas, EQX Biome
proposed to start conservation projects in partnership with NGOs operating in the DRC.
Eventually, those projects would generate carbon and biodiversity credits that could be
sold to companies wanting to offset their carbon emissions or demonstrate their
commitment to environmental stewardship. EQX Biome argued that the project eventually could generate at least $6 billion, create more jobs than oil exploration, and produce higher tax revenue for the DRC.
The plan is ambitious and its chance of succeeding is unclear. A Western diplomat quoted
in Energyworld.com, an arm of the India-based business newspaper The Economic Times,
points out that EQX Biome has had little direct experience operating in the DRC or in the
carbon-credits market. As April drew to a close, no additional reports had emerged in the international press about the status of any of the proposed drilling projects.
Jeannette De Wyze was a journalist at the San Diego Reader, where she wrote cover stories and news articles for 30 years. Today she’s a bonobo lover and supporter and the volunteer liaison between Women’s Empowerment International and the Nyaka Grannies Project in Uganda. She also raises puppies to be service dogs for Canine Companions for Independence and is an active blogger.