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DRC Launches Controversial Petro Auctions

FILE: The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi looks on. Taken 5.21.2022

The Democratic Republic of Congo Thursday launched a controversial auction of 30 oil and gas blocks, despite warnings that drilling in the country's rainforests and peatlands could be environmentally catastrophic.

Opening the auction on Thursday, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi said that exploration work would be carried out "using the most modern technological means that protect the environment".

Any drilling will be subject to a plan designed to minimize harmful effects on ecosystems, he added.

Of the 27 oil blocks put up for auction, nine are in the huge "central basin" rainforest and peatlands region in the west of the country.

DRC Hydrocarbons Minister Didier Budimbu said Thursday the government would award licensing rights for the three gas blocks after a period of three months, and after a period six months for the 27 oil blocks.

"The companies selected will be called upon to sign production-sharing contracts with the Democratic Republic of Congo," he said.

The minister added that the DRC has the potential to produce 22 billion barrels of oil, as well as 66 billion cubic metres of natural gas.

Tshisekedi said that oil and gas production will allow the DRC to reduce its reliance on mining -- to the benefit of the nation's people.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace have warned that plans to drill in the peatlands of the central basin could release vast amounts of heat-trapping gas and amplify global warning.

Scientists have sounded several warnings about DR Congo's peatlands, which comprise an area about the size of England.

Across the entirety of the basin, around 30 billion tons of carbon are stored, researchers estimated in a study in Nature in 2016. The figure is roughly equivalent to three years' of global emission.