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Communities share concern as Congo seeks to expand oil drilling: 'It's bringing us to poverty'

"We first need to see changes with the company we have here before we can trust others."

"We first need to see changes with the company we have here before we can trust others."

Photo Credit: iStock

The Republic of Congo, a mineral-rich nation in central Africa, is planning to significantly expand oil drilling operations by auctioning off 30 new oil and gas blocks, the Associated Press reports.

The move has sparked concerns among local communities and environmental groups who warn that increased drilling could worsen atmospheric pollution and threaten the country's biodiverse ecosystems.

What's happening?

Many of the oil blocks up for auction overlap with protected rainforests and peatlands that are vital for capturing the carbon dioxide responsible for triggering extreme weather events and rising temperatures. In villages near existing drilling sites operated by French-British company Perenco, residents are already reporting negative impacts.

Farmer Adore Ngaka told the AP his crops have withered and his family has burned through savings due to pollution from nearby oil extraction. 

"It's bringing us to poverty," he lamented, pointing to a stunted ear of corn about half the size it was before drilling expanded.

Why is oil drilling in Congo concerning?

Congo is home to most of the Congo Basin rainforest, the world's second-largest, and the majority of the planet's largest tropical peatlands. Together, these precious ecosystems absorb around 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually — that's 3% of global carbon pollution.

Drilling expansions could jeopardize these critical carbon sinks while polluting the air, soil, and water that nearby communities rely on.

"Any new oil and gas project, anywhere in the world, is fueling the climate and nature crisis that we're in," Mbong Akiy Fokwa Tsafak, program director for Greenpeace Africa, told the AP.

Some of the proposed oil blocks also threaten endangered wildlife habitats, including rare gorilla species, in places like Virunga National Park.

What's being done about drilling in Congo?

Environmental groups are raising awareness and taking legal action against Perenco. They argue that Congo, as the world's top cobalt producer, should prioritize developing renewable energy and minerals for the clean energy transition — and making those concerning efforts safer — rather than expanding oil drilling.

"We first need to see changes with the company we have here before we can trust other(s)," said Alphonse Khonde, coordinator of a local sustainable development group.

The Congolese government states it is committed to environmental protection but asserts that the country still needs to develop carbon-based resources for economic growth. Leaders have not specified how they will address the pollution hurting local villages.

Even global citizens who live outside Africa can do their part. Consider supporting reputable organizations working to safeguard the Congo's rainforests and biodiversity. When using cobalt-containing products like EV batteries, seek out companies with responsible sourcing practices that avoid environmental harm and human rights abuses.

Remember, our collective voices and choices can help build a future beyond oil, creating a healthier planet for communities in Congo and worldwide.

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