SOCO International plc (“SOCO” or “the Company”)
SOCO Comments on Unfounded Allegations and Inaccuracies on the Company's Current Activities in Virunga National Park
SOCO is aware of the inaccuracies concerning its activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo currently being circulated in the media by the Company's detractors.
SOCO would like to make clear, as consistent with previous statements, that the only commitment at this point in time is to conduct seismic survey on Lake Edward, alongside environmental and social studies and social investment programmes. No drilling has been planned or is even warranted at this stage.
This is the preliminary block evaluation phase of the work programme agreed with the DRC Government, and is the only phase to which SOCO has committed.
A seismic survey is a scientific study to gather data about subsurface rock formations. SOCO commissioned a seismic survey on Lake Edward in DRC waters, which has a surface area of approx. 1,630 sq km. This survey, beginning late April, is not the first seismic survey on Lake Edward: a seismic survey was previously carried out on the same lake in Ugandan waters (which covers a surface area of approx. 695 sq km).
The seismic survey will take approx. 6 weeks to complete and will progress across the lake, one area at a time. SOCO is using the same specialist contractors that carried out a similar survey on Lake Albert, another of the East Africa Great Lakes, this time using an even more environmentally sensitive technique. Moreover, although the survey technique is harmless to aquatic flora and fauna, as an extra precautionary measure the delicate fish spawning areas of the lake will be excluded.
The seismic survey involves placing a line of hydrophones, extremely sensitive sound equipment, onto the lake floor to record sound waves produced from releases of compressed air. The survey will take place in daylight and will utilise approximately 1% of the lake, on the DRC side, at any one time (approx. 16 sq km).
LICENCE AND PERMITS
The Government of the DRC awarded the Block V licence to SOCO in June 2006 and ratified this by Presidential Decree in 2010. In 2011, the DRC Environment Ministry approved SOCO's environmental and social impact assessment (often referred to as the 'PAR') and in 2011 and 2013 issued Environmental Acceptability Certificates authorising respective aerial and seismic surveys. The aerial survey was not carried out due to the security status in the region; the seismic survey is described above.
Within Block V, SOCO's specific area of interest is Lake Edward (approx 1,630 km2) and the adjacent lowland savannah, which are both within the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park wardens' organisation, ICCN, which manages the Virunga National Park, is a DRC Government body. In May 2011, ICCN and SOCO made an agreement, which was signed by ICCN's Chairman of the Board and its Director General. Under the terms of this agreement, ICCN permits SOCO to enter the Virunga National Park for the purposes of carrying out scientific studies, and SOCO pays ICCN a fee for access to the Park and for monitoring SOCO's activities whilst inside the Park. The lines of working relationship and accountability to ICCN were strengthened further in September 2011 when an Environmental Monitoring Committee was established to monitor SOCO's activities whilst in the Park. ICCN has two representatives on this committee and ICCN's Director General holds the position of Committee Chairman. SOCO's agreement with ICCN was renewed in 2013.
The DRC Environment Ministry addressed the legal position concerning oil exploration in the Virunga National Park in its letter to UNESCO, announced on 8 August 2012 and available on its website (also available on SOCO's website). The DRC Environment Ministry has recently stated its continued commitment to promoting the country's research, exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in full compliance with its national and international commitments to nature and the environment. The DRC Environment Ministry noted that despite some concerns, it was determined to combine sound economic management with sustainable management of natural resources whilst ensuring environmental protection.
HELP FOR THE PARK
The Virunga National Park was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger by the World Heritage Committee twenty years ago in 1994 in the wake of war and an influx of refugees which led to widescale deforestation and poaching at the site. The human population in the fishing village near Lake Edward has increased several fold, posing a serious threat to the integrity of the Park.
Responsible commercial investment has the potential to transform a region. We are committed to support conservation by ensuring that our operations are managed responsibly and sustainably. Responsibly conducted commercial activities can provide important measures of stability to a region. Enhancement of local and regional economies can help raise living standards for local communities and thus alleviate the pressure and negative impacts on the protected area. We are committed to continuing the dialogue with all stakeholders who have an interest in our operations in Virunga in order to better understand their concerns, correct inaccuracies and reassure local communities.
During 2013, SOCO committed over US $0.9 million towards social projects for local communities around Lake Edward, including:
- The rehabilitation of a dilapidated road between Nyakakoma and Ishasha,
- The installation of a communications mast at Nyakakoma
- The provision of medical aid programmes (including a mobile hospital and a disease mapping campaign to combat neglected tropical diseases).
SOCO is extremely sensitive to the environmental significance of the Virunga National Park. This is reflected in the strict step-wise process that is uniquely characteristic of the Block V project. Unlike standard oil exploration licence projects, the approval of the DRC authorities is required for each phase of the project and emphasis is placed on environmental monitoring studies and social investment during the early phases.
Engaging with the local community to hear and understand their needs, along with carefully managed social investment is an important part of responsible management. SOCO's social investment is starting to have a positive impact that we believe will be long-term.
It is emphasised that SOCO operates under a strict Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, which it takes extremely seriously. Any reported breach will always be investigated to the furthest extent possible.
SOCO fully appreciates and supports a public debate on the compatibility of conservation and economic development. However, the benefit of such debate becomes limited when one side of the debate presents false allegations, and when there has been little or no opportunity for balance to be included by allowing SOCO to put across its side of the story with facts concerning its location and activities in Block V.
SOCO's approach continues to be one of openness and transparency, and SOCO welcomes dialogue with all its stakeholders.
Notes to editors:
- SOCO is an international oil and gas exploration and Production Company, headquartered in London, traded on the London Stock Exchange and a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index. The Company has interests in Vietnam, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa) and Angola.
- For further information please visit http://www.socointernational.com.