SOCO International plc (SOCO) has agreed with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a joint statement to commit not to undertake or commission any exploratory or other drilling within Virunga National Park unless UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status.
This was agreed jointly in mediation through the UK National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines.
Under the new deal SOCO will complete its existing operational programme including completing the seismic survey on Lake Edward which is due to conclude shortly with the company confirming its previous statements that no Block V drilling commitments have ever been made.
“SOCO is pleased that we were able to work together with WWF to hopefully find a way to jointly improve conditions in Virunga National Park and for its inhabitants,” said Roger Cagle, Deputy CEO SOCO International plc.
The deal also recognizes that the conclusion of this phase of work will give the DRC government vital information it will need in deciding how to proceed in Virunga National Park.
“Our agreement with WWF focuses the need for the DRC Government and UNESCO to also reach an agreement on the best way to combine development and the environment.” Rui de Sousa, Chairman of SOCO said.
SOCO has carried out various environmental baseline studies on Block V, including fish and mollusc studies on Lake Edward and an inventory of the hippopotami population, relative to the seismic survey.
Going forward SOCO says it will honour commitments it has made to local inhabitants to continue with its social programmes as long as it hold rights to the Block V license.
“Today’s public commitment adds further definition and transparency to the Company’s approach regarding Virunga National Park and other World Heritage Sites. Hopefully we can all get back to activities focused on both people and the environment where it does the most good for a place that we think can have a better future,” Ed Story, Chief Executive of SOCO, commented.
Approximately half of Block V is outside the boundaries of Virunga National Park. SOCO reiterates that licenses overlapping with other UNESCO World Heritage Sites would not be considered by the Company.