Total conducting seismic testing on Congo oil block

A logo is pictured at French oil and gas company Total gas station in Marseille, February 11, 2015. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

KINSHASA (Reuters) - French oil major Total is conducting seismic testing on a block it operates in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a company spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday, making it the first oil major to conduct such testing in the country.

Congo produces just 25,000 barrels of oil per day along its Atlantic coast in the west but hopes that further exploration offshore and near Lake Albert, which straddles the eastern border with Uganda, will boost that figure significantly in coming years.

Total holds a 66.66 percent stake in Block 3, located along Lake Albert. Semliki Sarl, majority owned by South Africa-based SacOil, and the Congolese state hold minority stakes.

Total acquired its exploration licence in January 2012 but has had to contend with persistent insecurity in the conflict-ravaged area caused by rebel groups.

The spokeswoman did not provide additional details about the testing.

Crude deposits were first discovered in the Albertine rift basin by Uganda in 2006. Uganda estimates the reserves on its side of the border at 6.5 billion barrels and some experts believe Congo could have a similar quantity.

Research and exploratory findings based on seismic testing by a company owned by Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler on two other blocks in northeastern Congo suggest they could contain reserves of close to 1.5 billion barrels of oil, the company has said.

Campaign groups have criticised oil exploration on both sides of the border, saying it risks disturbing the ecosystem in Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to the endangered mountain gorilla and other rare species.

One-third of Block 3’s acreage is located inside Virunga but Total has promised not to explore in or near the 7,800-square-kilometre park.

Reporting by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Additional reporting by Bate Felix in Paris; editing by Susan Thomas