French oil giant Total SA has pledged not to conduct any oil exploration in World Heritage Sites. Ain’t that big of them?
The World Heritage Site program is run by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO designates places as World Heritage Sites based on their special cultural or physical significance. The sites are chosen based on an idea of universal significance, such as the ancient sites of Thebes and Carthage, or the Senegal River delta wetland. As of 2013, 981 sites were listed with UNESCO. Only 193 of those were natural sites.
Total sent written confirmation of the decision to abstain from oil and gas exploration in wilderness areas recognized for their unique physical significance in early February. Total SA joins Royal Dutch Shell in pledging to keep oil exploration efforts outside of World Heritage Sites.
The decision comes at a time when Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is at risk from oil exploration and mining activities. More than 80% of the park is already allocated for oil concessions. Environmental groups, such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund have been petitioning oil companies not to explore or drill within the boundaries of Virunga National Park. UNESCO has asked the Democratic Republic of the Congo to revoke all oil permits within the park boundaries.
Another oil company, Soco International, is going forward with plans for seismic exploration within Virunga. According to Soco’s own environmental assessments, their oil exploration could lead to pollution, drinking water contamination, loss of fishing jobs among the local populations, diseases, habitat loss, and wildlife poaching.
While the world transitions to renewable sources of energy, oil will still be necessary. However, not every place on earth needs to be torn apart by oil exploration, and this isn’t a problem limited to Africa. Canadian tar sand operations have left gaping wounds in long-untouched wilderness, and the fracking industry is trying to muscle its way into America’s national forests. There are plenty of places left to look for oil that don’t include national parks.
Perhaps after wreaking havoc on the local ecology and wildlife populations, Soco plans to send pizza coupons to make it all better.
Photo: Total in the Congo/CC