Congo’s upcoming oil block auction faces environmental issues

Antony Sguazzin and Michael J. Kavanagh 06/08/2022

(Bloomberg) – The Democratic Republic of Congo’s plan to auction oil exploration blocks next month threatens to disrupt some of the world’s largest carbon sinks and could jeopardize a $500 million forest preservation deal of dollars.

Some of the blocks, which are estimated to contain 16 billion barrels of crude reserves, overlap the largest tropical peatlands which cover 145,000 square kilometers (56,000 square miles) and store around 30 billion tonnes of carbon, or l equivalent to about 82% of annual global carbon. dioxide emissions. So-called carbon sinks help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and other activities.

Protecting wetlands and the wider Congo Basin rainforest was the subject of one of the landmark agreements at last year’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Under the compact with the Central African Forest Initiative, Congo will get the funding for five years, provided it meets agreed milestones.

“This letter of engagement will begin with a comprehensive analysis of the extent to which mining, oil and gas titles overlap or impact high-value protected areas, forests and peatlands,” CAFI said in a response. by e-mail to questions. “Donors are working closely with the DRC government to ensure that the commitments set out in the Letter of Intent are met.”

CAFI is a partnership created in 2015 between a coalition of European countries, the European Union, South Korea and the United Kingdom as well as the six countries of the Congo Basin. It aims to curb the loss of forests in the region.

“The geology, geography and environment experts at the Ministry of Hydrocarbons worked meticulously on the selection of the oil blocks, taking into account environmental sensitivities,” the government said in a May video on the tenders, seen by Bloomberg. . “The will of the Head of State is to consider the exploitation of the oil resources of the DRC but also the protection of nature.”

release carbon

The two goals are unlikely to be compatible, said Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London.

Ecosystems “have to maintain their moisture to keep all the carbon locked in. If there are drilling rigs, you risk disturbing the peatlands, drying them out and releasing some of the carbon,” Lewis said in a statement. interview. “They are among the most carbon-dense systems on Earth. This is where you would go first to protect the carbon.

As part of the agreement with the partnership, Congo has pledged to place 30% of its area under protection status and to restore 8 million hectares (19.8 million acres) of land and forest. degraded. The mineral-rich country will also halt mining and hydrocarbon extraction in protected areas if it leads to deforestation, according to the letter of intent. The Congo Basin is the second largest rainforest in the world, after the Amazon.

Oil block auctions will be held on July 28 and 29, according to the government.

“The invitation to big oil companies to trash Congo’s most sensitive ecosystems and drill into the carbon bomb of peatlands is a historic mistake that must be abandoned immediately,” said Irene Wabiwa Betoko, international project manager for the Congo Basin forest for Greenpeace Africa.