(Bloomberg) -- Residents in 14 villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo visited by Greenpeace weren’t aware of the government’s plans to open up a vast swath of the nation’s tropical forest for oil and gas drilling, the group said.
Some of the 30 planned exploration blocks announced in July overlap with protected areas and the world’s biggest tropical peatlands, which store carbon equivalent to three years of global greenhouse-gas emissions.
The villagers are among more than a million people in the exploration areas who may be affected, while pollution could contaminate water supplies in urban centers downstream, including the capital Kinshasa that’s projected by the World Bank to have a population of 26 million by the end of the decade, Greenpeace said in a report released on Thursday.
“No one we met with had yet heard the slightest thing about Kinshasa’s oil plans,” Greenpeace said. “Their livelihoods depend on healthy ecosystems for fishing and farming.”
Already, climate scientists have said that allowing oil drilling in the peatlands may cause the release of greenhouse gases from the waterlogged areas that trap carbon by preventing dead branches and roots from rotting. The concessions also overlap with sensitive environmental ecosystems home to endangered mountain gorillas, monkeys, elephants, cheetahs and zebras.
Congo’s president, Felix Tshisekedi, has defended the sale as vital to the nation’s economy.
“Adequate strategies and measures have been adopted and taken to avoid negative impacts on the environment,” he said in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week.
Opening up the forest for oil exploration could also make it more accessible to hunters as well as to loggers and charcoal producers, who hack down trees to make the cooking fuel.
Congo’s landmass includes about 60% of the Congo Basin tropical forest, the second-biggest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon.
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