SOCO has ceased to hold the Block V licence

Following the end of our contractual obligations to the Government of the DRC, we have not sought to renew our licence.

Background

SOCO publicly set out its withdrawal programme from Block V in June 2014. In line with this public commitment, SOCO’s operations inside Virunga National Park ceased on 22 July 2014 and elsewhere in Block V on 11 August 2014.  On 12 March 2015, SOCO committed to no further involvement in Block V and stated in its financial results announcement that all costs incurred on Block V to date and any further costs anticipated in the course of 2015 have been written off as exploration expense in 2014.  In June 2015, SOCO reiterated its commitment to leave Block V, stating that the timeline for this was tied to the Company's contractual obligations in DRC.

SOCO's humanitarian aid, provided in medical, water purification and communications facilities, has been transferred to the local communities for the benefit of the people.

No exploration drilling has taken place in Block V. No drilling commitment has ever been made and no oil exploitation plans exist for Block V.  Block V is not located within the mountainous Mikeno Sector, home to the famous Mountain Gorillas. SOCO has publicly stated since 2011 that it would never seek to have operations in the Mountain Gorilla habitat, the Virunga Volcanoes or the Virunga equatorial rainforest.

Activity prior to August 2014

Prior to August 2014, the extent of SOCO’s operational activity within Virunga National Park had been:

  • A bathymetry survey on Lake Edward. The objective of this survey was to map the depth of the lake.  The survey lasted 1 month and was completed in November 2013.
  • A seismic survey on Lake Edward.  The objective of this survey was to gather data about subsurface rock formations under the lake.  The survey lasted 6 weeks and was completed on 13 June 2014.  
  • Geological studies on land.  The studies were carried out by three geologists using small handheld tools.  The objective was to inspect rock formations on land and to gather samples for laboratory study.  Inside Virunga National Park, the studies were completed on 22 July 2014 and elsewhere on 11 August 2014.
  • View SOCO's permits and approvals

2014: SOCO’s seismic survey on Lake Edward was completed on 13 June 2014.  

 The seismic survey – main facts:

  • The survey was a scientific study to gather data about subsurface rock formations under the lake on the DRC side.
  • The data acquisition commenced on 1 May 2014 and finished on 13 June 2014.
  • The surface area of Lake Edward is approx. 2,325 sq km and spans the DRC-Ugandan border. On the DRC side, the lake has a surface area of approx. 1,630 sq km. (roughly the size of the county of Surrey in the UK).
  • The survey gradually progressed across the lake, utilising less than 1% of the lake (approx. 16 sq km) at any one time.
  • The survey involved placing a line of hydrophones, extremely sensitive sound equipment, onto the lake floor to record sound waves produced from releases of compressed air from a boat on the water’s surface.
  • SOCO used the same specialist contractors that carried out a similar survey on Lake Albert, another of the East African Great Lakes, this time using an even more environmentally sensitive technique.
  • Although the survey technique is harmless to aquatic flora and fauna, as an extra precautionary measure the delicate fish spawning areas of the lake were excluded.
  • This 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).

2013: A lake bathymetry study took place in November

The lake bathymetry study mapped the shaped of the lake floor.  The study was conducted by Tesla during November 2013 and was completed without incident.

 

2013: The DRC Ministry of the Environment issues approval for a seismic study on Lake Edward

2013: ICCN renews its agreement of collaboration with SOCO

  • View the Memorandum of Understanding between SOCO & ICCN

2013: Environmental baseline studies begin in August

In May 2013, ICCN (the park wardens' organisation which manages the Virunga National Park) confirms its facilitation of the proposed environmental baseline studies

First studies were fish and mollusc baseline studies on Lake Edward, followed by a baseline study of hippopotami.

The studies were conducted on behalf of SOCO by Okapi Environment Conseil Sprl, a respected Congolese consulting firm which specialises in environmental and social evaluations. 

The studies respond to concerns that had been expressed regarding the impact of potential future exploration activities in the region.

The ICCN (the park wardens' organisation which manages the Virunga National Park) and the Congo Environmental Studies Group were formal co-collaborators in determining which environmental baseline studies should be carried out.

  • View the Ministerial Order

2013: SOCO’s social programme commences in August

SOCO’s social programmes were launched at Nyakakoma in August.  The launch was a significant event for the communities around Lake Edward as the social programmes had been approved by the DRC national government and had wide support from the local communities and local authorities.

  • View announcement

The social programmes include

  • The rehabilitation of a dilapidated road between Nyakakoma and Ishasha,
  • The installation of a communications mast at Nyakakoma (on the shores of Lake Edward),
  • The provision of medical aid programmes (including a mobile hospital and a disease mapping campaign to combat neglected tropical diseases).

2013:  Aerial survey remains postponed due to the security status in North Kivu

The first of the planned scientific studies was to gather an aeromagnetic gravity data through an aerial survey.  This remained postposed since 2012 due to the security status in North Kivu and currently there are no plans to resume.

2012: Local engagement campaign

SOCO commenced a programme of visiting local communities on and near the shores of Lake Edward to better understand their needs and explain our operations in their area

Accompanying SOCO on these visits were ICCN (the park wardens' organisation which manages the Virunga National Park) in their capacity as independent monitors of SOCO’s activities.

The programme ceased for a number of weeks due to the security uprising in North Kivu, but was later resumed and, overall, included more than 10 community meetings to which the response was very positive.

2012: Preparation for the aerial survey

SOCO commenced preparation for an aerial survey to be conducted from its base camp at Ishahsa on the DRC border.

As security tensions increased during the latter half of 2012, SOCO relocated its base camp to Kihihi on the Ugandan side of the border and postponed the aerial survey.

2012: ICCN confirms its collaboration with SOCO

ICCN is the Park Wardens' organisation which manages the Virunga National Park

  • View letter dated 3 April 2012

2011: Environmental Acceptability Certificate issued to SOCO in September

Following the DRC Government’s acceptance of the PAR in September, an Environmental Acceptability Certificate was issued to SOCO by the DRC Ministry of the Environment Conservation Nature and Tourism.

  • View the Ministerial Order

The Certificate granted SOCO permission to conduct an aerial survey over Lake Edward and the adjacent lowland savannah.

The terms of the Certificate included:

  • that SOCO fulfil the environmental and social commitments set out in the PAR;
  • a close collaboration between SOCO and ICCN (the park wardens' organisation which manages the Virunga National Park);
  • a close collaboration between SOCO and GEEC (the Congo Environmental Studies Group);
  • the completion of environmental baseline studies.
  • The establishment of an Environmental Monitoring Committee to oversee activities.  

The Committee comprises delegates from the Ministry of the Environment Conservation Nature and Tourism, ICCN (the Park Wardens' organisation which manages the Virunga National Park) and GEEC.

2011: Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (Plan d’Attenuation et de Rehabilitation or 'PAR')

The main objective of the assessment was to identify the potential impacts of early phase exploration activities and to propose measures to mitigate, control and track such impacts.

Amongst the many considerations, the assessment took into account the history of the area, its environmental significance, the demographics and its socioeconomics, including the importance of fishing and agriculture to local livelihoods.

The first document submitted to the DRC Government was the environmental impact assessment and it was initially rejected this reason; SOCO later submitted a document that combined the environmental and social impact assessments which was accepted in September 2011.

The DRC Government retains title over this document and accordingly it has not been published by SOCO.

2011: The DRC Government commissions a Strategic Environment Evaluation (‘SEE’)

The SEE covers the Virunga National Park and Block V and includes scientific studies to assess the region’s petroleum resource potential. 

The SEE forms the context for SOCO’s activities and permits. 

On 8 August 2012 the DRC Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, Nature and Tourism wrote to UNESCO to describe the context for SOCO's activities within the SEE. This is available (in French) on the Ministry website(http://www.mecnt.cd).

2006-2010: The DRC Government awards the Block V exploration licence

2006:     SOCO signs a Production Sharing Contract  (“PSC”) with the DRC Government

2010:     The PSC is ratified by DRC Presidential Decree, the final step in the licensing process.  The Presidential Decree was announced in the DRC's Official Gazette

 

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Footnotes

  • ICCN (the park wardens' organisation which manages the Virunga National Park) is the ‘Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature’ and is commonly referred to as The Congolese Wildlife Authority  or The Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation.
  • GEEC is ‘Groupe d’Etudes Environnementales du Congo’, commonly referred to as The Congo Environmental Studies Group.
  • The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment is also referred to as the ‘Mitigation and Rehabilitation Plan’ or ‘Plan d’Atténuation et de Réhabilitation or ‘PAR’.  
 
 

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