Congo Oil-Blocks Auction Draws Warnings of Environmental Catastrophe
Environmental activists and scientists said drilling in the designated areas would inevitably have steep consequences. Several of the proposed oil blocks overlap with peatlands, swampy areas that hold billions of tonnes of carbon.
Licensing rights for 30 oil and gas blocks in the Democratic Republic of Congo went up for auction on 28 July, opening parts of the world's second-biggest rainforest to drilling that could release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, jeopardizing climate goals to tame global warming.
President Felix Tshisekedi presided over the launch of bidding at a ceremony in the capital Kinshasa. Attendees included representatives from France's TotalEnergies and several domestic companies, although a TotalEnergies spokeswoman said the company would not participate in bidding.
"The launch of the tendering process ... speaks to our desire to put our resource potential at the service of our country," Tshisekedi said, arguing that fossil fuel production would boost development in one of the world's poorest countries.
"This is in a context where fossil fuels, including crude oil and gas are at the center of global issues of peace and stability because of the Russian/Ukrainian conflict," he added.
Tshisekedi said modern drilling methods and tight regulation would minimize the ecological impact and denied that Congo was going back on commitments to protect its forests.
But environmental activists and scientists said drilling in the designated areas would inevitably have steep consequences. Several of the proposed oil blocks overlap with peatlands, swampy areas that hold billions of tonnes of carbon.
Simon Lewis, a leading researcher on Congo's peatlands, estimated this month that drilling in the blocks proposed by the government could release up to 5.8 billion of tonnes of carbon, more than 14% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions in 2021.
"In a zone where there are peatlands, any industrial exploitation means the explosion of a carbon bomb," said Irène Wabiwa Betoko, who leads Greenpeace's Congo Basin project.
Two of the other oil blocks overlap with Virunga National Park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas on the borders with Rwanda and Uganda.