British oil company SOCO International abandons exploration license in Virunga National Park, a protected reserve area in conflict-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. File photo by Sylvain Liechti/MONUSCO
LONDON, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- British oil company SOCO International said it no longer held a stake in an exploration license located in a DRC national park, home to mountain gorillas.
SOCO said it was writing off the costs associated with operations in the so-called Block V inside the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"SOCO no longer holds the Block V license," the company said in a statement.
SOCO signed a production sharing agreement with the DRC government in 2006. It said earlier that it reached an agreement with conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature, which operates as the World Wildlife Fund in the United States, to halt work in the DRC's Virunga National Park, a protected area and home to mountain gorillas, a critically endangered species.
In October, the WWF said the number of mountain gorillas in the Virunga park has increased over the last few decades following the work of regional conservationists. The organization said the threat continues, however, to the species' habitat. A census is underway.
The company in its latest update said no drilling ever took place inside Block V and no oil extraction plan was in place in the controversial basin.
"Block V is not located within the mountainous Mikeno sector [of the park], home to the famous mountain gorillas," it stressed.
Virunga, an award-winning documentary, showcases how the work of poachers, along with oil interests and conflict, has threatened the habitat and the survival of the mountain gorillas. The film raises questions about SOCO's transparency in the region, questions the company has criticized.
SOCO in 2012 was forced to relocate some its staff from the DRC to neighboring Uganda to flee a rebellion launched by the March 23 Movement. It defended its operations in the DRC, saying much of its preliminary work was carried out using aerial surveillance.
The company's work in the DRC had involved seismic surveys of the oil-rich Lake Edward region to get a better understanding of the reserve potential.