The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will auction off 30 oil and gas blocks in the Congo Basin forest‘s Cuvette-Centrale Peatlands, the world’s largest tropical peatland, Yahoo News reported.
Due to the massive amounts of carbon these blocks contain, drilling for fossil fuels could release a lot into the atmosphere, which is why peatland soils are often called “carbon sinks.”
Some of the oil leasing areas for auction are within Africa’s iconic first conservation area, the Virunga National Park. Yahoo News reported that the national park was established in 1925 and is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the world’s last mountain gorilla population.
The decision by the Congo-Kinshasa Ministry of Hydrocarbons has enraged environmentalists and climate activists, who argue that oil drilling will endanger a continent already battered by harsh climate effects.
The Congo Basin covers 530 million hectares (1.3 billion acres) and is home to 70% of the continent’s forested land. It is home to over 1,000 bird species and the most significant number of primates on the planet, including gorillas, chimps, and bonobos. People’s livelihoods could also be in jeopardy, as members of the Mbuti and Baka communities could be evicted.
“These are the last refuges of nature biodiversity,” and our last carbon sinks stated Ken Mwathe of BirdLife International in Africa. “We must not sacrifice these valuable natural assets for damaging development.”
For its part, the DRC government claimed it wants to increase its oil production from 25,000 barrels per day to 1 million barrels per day to improve its citizens’ standard of living and possibly replace some Russian oil imports, reported Forbes.
According to the Centre for International Forest Research, the massive Cuvette-Centrale carbon sink covers 145,000 square kilometers (56,000 square miles) and can store up to 20 years’ worth of U.S. carbon emissions.
Other DRC-planned auction blocs include those on Lake Kivu, Lake Tanganyika, and one along the Albertine-Grabben region, on the western side of the Eastern African Rift Valley system.