The Democratic Republic of Congo says it will auction rights to drill for oil in more than two dozen areas, including a rainforest region that green groups say should be protected.
Twenty-seven blocks for oil exploration and three for gas will be auctioned off from July 28, the minister for hydrocarbons, Didier Budimbu, announced late on Monday.
Of the 27 oil blocks, three are located on the coast of the Congo River basin and nine in the huge “central basin” rainforest region in the west of the country.
The other 15 are in the east of the country, near the Albert and Tanganyika great lakes.
The three gas blocks are located at Lake Kivu, also in the east.
Environmental campaigners have protested against plans to drill in the central basin.
Oil prospection there, which will include the cutting of huge corridors to transport equipment, could have a disastrous impact on rare species and unleash carbon that has lain undisturbed for thousands of years, they say.
“Three of the blocks overlap with the Cuvette Centrale peatlands, a biodiversity hotspot containing about 30 gigatons of carbon, equivalent to three years of global emissions,” Greenpeace Africa said last month.
“Oil drilling could release the immense stocks of carbon they store.”
The government says it gave the go-ahead after environmental impact studies were carried out.
The auction comes after the government reached a deal in February with Israeli tycoon Dan Gertler, paying him two billion dollars for his rights over two blocks at Lake Albert.
In April, it announced it would go ahead with the auction.