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  • Writer's pictureJeannette De Wyze

Oil Exploration: A Looming Threat in Congo

By Jeannette De Wyze

Bonobo lovers who were paying attention to the UN climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021 had reason to feel heartened when Félix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, agreed to an ambitious 10-year plan to protect the Congo Basin.

Two bonobos in trees in Ekolo ya Bonobo Community Reserve in the DR Congo
Two rewilded bonobos sit in trees in Ekolo ya Bonobo Community Reserve in the DR Congo

Over the first five years, the agreement was to unlock half a billion dollars pledged by European countries and South Korea. In exchange DRC would cap Congolese forest-cover loss, regenerate degraded land, and otherwise protect the sub-Saharan behemoth’s plant and wildlife resources, including the critically endangered bonobos.

The global conservation community therefore collectively reeled in May 2022 when the DRC government abruptly announced plans to auction rights to develop oil and natural gas deposits in 16 enormous areas blocks throughout the country. In mid-July, the government increased the number of blocks to 30.

The World Bank ranks the DRC among the five poorest nations in the world. An estimated 60 million people – 73% of Congolese – were living on less than $2 a day in 2018. Defending the recent announcements about the oil and gas auction, a top adviser to the country’s minister of hydrocarbons told the New York Times that revenues from the drilling could drive development and reduce the country’s poverty. He added, “That’s our priority. Our priority is not to save the planet.”

According to one estimate, the Congolese oil and gas reserves could be