Roger Cagle, one of Soco’s managers for Democratic Republic of Congo, told Reuters that “the start date for seismic testing has been planned for 26 April and will take about a month”.
Cagle said the company would use an environmentally-sensitive technique of placing seismic recorders on the lakebed as had been done by Tullow Oil on the Ugandan side of the lake.
The project has drawn repeated fire from conservation group WWF over the past couple of years as the wildlife organisation believes the oil exploration places the local water supply and fishing activity at risk.
The group argues that oil exploration is incompatible with Virunga National Park’s Unesco World Heritage status as it could damage the area’s protected habitats and biodiversity.
Zach Abraham, WWF’s global campaigns manager, commented: “It’s impossible to guarantee oil extraction anywhere without pollution, let alone in a place as fragile as this.”
For its part Soco International says its Block V concession, awarded in 2008, is legally held and exploration activities are being conducted at the invitation of the Congolese government.
The country’s oil minister said earlier this year that DR Congo had a right to know the extent of its resources regardless of their location.
The poverty-stricken nation has been eager to boost its under-developed oil sector that currently produces just 25,000 barrels per day.
Soco also said it had seen wide community support in the area for its social projects that saw almost $1 million spent last year on road rehabilitation, a phone mast and medical aid programmes.
While acknowledging part of its 7500-square kilometre concession lies within the park, the explorer said its acreage does not lie within the park’s mountain gorilla habitat, volcanic or equatorial rainforest areas.
It says its area of particular interest is the block’s 1630-square kilometre area of the lake and nearby lowland savannah.
The explorer previously estimated that the Albertine Graben acreage along the border with Uganda could hold as much as 3.5 billion barrels of oil.
Soco International holds an 85% working interest in Block 5, with state company Cohydro on 15%.