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On the 18th November 2015, at Quiet Haven Hotel in Nyarutarama (Kigali), the staff members of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) hold an internal meeting focused o the issue of oil exploration in the Virunga National Park (DRC) which is one of the World Heritage sites.

This workshop was initiated after the Government of DRC announced on the 8th November 2015 the availability of oil in the Virunga National Park and its eventual exploitation in the future to respond to the development needs of its population.

The opening remarks were given by Dr Georges Muamba Thibasu, recalling the efforts made for several years by ICCN (Institut National pour la Conservation de la Nature) in DRC which probably contributed to the governmental decision ending the oil exploration undertaken by Soco and Total in the Virunga National Park. The GVTC Executive Secretary announced that GVTC will organize another important workshop on oil exploitation in Goma (North Kivu) next January in Goma to allow experts, scientists and other national stakeholders to discuss the issue and elaborate useful recommendations for the Congolese decision-makers.

In the introductive presentation, Mr. Juvenal Mukeshimana, the GVTC Executive Secretary Assist dealt with the oil exploitation and its impacts in Soudan, according to a workshop he attended in Juba (South Sudan) two years ago, from the 19th to the 21st November 2013.

During the above workshop in Juba, participants pointed out the need of meeting local people to discuss the oil exploration/exploitation issues, the consideration of laws, the environmental impacts assessment tools, the consideration of seismic impact tools, as well as agreements. While dealing with oil exploitation issues in a given area, some challenges arise, for instance the absence of law, the adherence of local populations, clear terms of agreements, etc. In such a situation, decision-makers have to take action in terms of preparation of access roads, seismic survey, and seismic line preparation, base camp set up, line clearance, decommissioning and restoration.

The challenges related to oil exploitation in a protected area are as follows: waste generation, noise, destruction of wildlife species, destruction of wildlife habitat, and modern infrastructure in the protected area. Because of that, actions have to be taken in terms of preparing of the drilling pad, bringing materials for construction. Besides, evident risks and challenges are related to the previous actions: increasing the access to the protected areas, noise, dust, emissions from machinery, chemical and soil contaminations, destruction of wildlife species, destruction of wildlife habit, modern infrastructure in the protected areas, split and then even isolate or separate populations permanently, potential rise in the number of residents, etc.

This internal meeting offered opportunity to share other experiences related to oil exploration/exploitation in other countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Gabon, and Canada. In his presentation, James Byamukama, GVTC Programs Manager, summarized specific cases in that area. In this framework, he mentioned that Uganda has 5 national parks and 8 wildlife reserves which are managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and stressed how oil exploration/exploitation is a threat to conservation and tourism in Uganda where the major part of protected areas is contiguous with Virunga National Park and has similar attributes. In Murchison Falls National Park, for instance, oil activities are associated with several negative impacts, including the increased human and vehicle traffic in the park which interfere with tourism and normal operation in the park.

Among the lessons learnt, one should notice that oil companies are business companies and therefore will try as much as possible to maximize their projects even if it means compromising the environment. Moreover, those companies will always take advantage of weaknesses in government system, while there are international standards that they can adhere to but they will use excuses of lack of national standards to do certain things. In Gabon, par example, some bad practices have been noticed within oil exploitation. Pipes are laid on the surface in Gamba Complex where there should be a serious eyesore and risk to wildlife, in terms of accidents and some companies do not have a decommissioning fund.

Mr. James Byamuka ended his presentation evoking the Canada cases in oil exploration. Indeed, over years, Canada has evolved through oil and gas activities to a point where they have adopted the best practices that have least impact on the environment. In spite of that, there are problems associated with the National Oil Company such as political interference, corruption, and inadequate funding. Besides, Canada does not have a national oil company, i.e. oil and gas companies are private ones.

GVTC Communication Service.