Oil exploration activities damage Congo park

Jan 05, 2007 01:00 AM

Oil exploration activities, including underground explosions, are seriously damaging Congo Republic's most diverse ecological zone in violation of national park legislation, conservationists say.
Stretching from deep in the Atlantic Ocean to the central African country's inland hills, Congo's Conkouati-Douli National Park is home to a host of rare and endangered species including leatherback turtles, mandrills, gorillas and chimpanzees.

The US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) says oil exploration by Zetah, a subsidiary of French oil company Maurel & Prom, is damaging the park's habitat and says the Brazzaville government should never have granted exploration rights because the law creating the park prohibits it.
"Zetah oil company is causing serious environmental damage, increased poaching pressures, and general disturbance through terrestrial oil exploration activities," Paul Elkan, director of the WCS programme in Congo, told.

Elkan said seismic explosions -- carried out tohelp geologists plot the likely location of oil reserves beneath rock -- were being carried out in ecologically sensitive areas. In addition, new roads, tracks and bridges made it easier for poachers to get in and out of the park, and animal snares had been found around tented camps erected for oil workers within the park, he said.
Zetah had failed to carry out the usual environmental impact assessments required before exploration work even outside a national park, Elkan said, adding: "There is a simple violation of legal process which has taken place."

The August 1999 decree creating the national park forbids oil exploration and other rights within the park, but Forestry and Environment Minister Henri Djombo insisted the environment was being safeguarded. Maurel & Prom also denied its subsidiary's activities were harming the park.
WCS said a concerted joint effort with Congolese authorities had all but halted the trade in poached "bush meat" from Conkouati-Douli in 2005. But after oil exploration work began last August, Elkan said the number of animals confiscated at one control post had more than trebled to 350 in October, numbering 54 protected species including two dead gorillas and one chimpanzee.

The Congo river basin, spanning Congo, the larger Democratic Republic of Congo and several other countries, is home to a host of endangered species, many of them found in Conkouati-Douli. "It's the highest diversity area in Congo," Elkan said. "It has tremendous ecotourism potential because of the proximity of the ocean."

Source: AlertNet News
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