The brisk exploration activities and discoveries in the country’s offshore West Cape Three Points and other West African countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone have increased risk levels for oil spillage.
A recent study that covered the country’s 550 kilometres of coastline helped in determining the ecological diversity and vigorous economic activities along the coast, which is densely populated with important cities, revealed the country is at risk and risk zones are determined.
The findings led to national contingency plans being mapped out among stakeholder institutions such as the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA), Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) among others.
Mr. Kojo Agbenor-Efunam, Principal Programme Officer (Oil and Gas) at the EPA, explained in an interview that in times of marine oil-spill, it is not the magnitude of a spill that is problematic but the management aspect of it.
If the recent spill of 706 barrels of toxic substances (Low Toxicity Oil Based Mud, LTOBM) by Kosmos Energy — one of the operators in the country’s offshore oil — is an indication of what the country should expect, then all will not be well within the near-future.
After some investigations by a government committee, Kosmos Energy was found culpable and slapped with a GH¢40billon fine — which the company is refusing to acknowledge.
In a letter submission, Kosmos Energy disputed the claims of government and even questions the legality of the fine imposed by a government ministry, which it says has no legal authority or mandate to do so.
What this points to is the need for government to ensure that oil exploration agreements with oil corporations take into account the potential environmental damage that is inherent in the business.
It also reveals a deficit in the application of knowledge and experience gained from environmental damage perpetrated by mining companies over the years as both governments and their agencies look on helplessly, since their hands are more or less tied to agreements which accrue to the benefit of mining companies.
In the bid to attract foreign direct investment to the country government is urged to sign agreements under highly unfavourable terms — including even ‘stabilisation clauses’ which undermine the very sovereignty of the country.
The result is that mining companies ransack a country’s mineral resources and leave in their trail devastated and polluted land that cannot be put to any proper use.
Many communities affected by mining have harrowing tales to tell as mining operations render them landless, with polluted water and much poorer than before given the loss of their livelihood.
There is need for government to ensure that in the agreements they sign with these multinational companies there are stringent and enforceable environmental clauses — which not only hold the companies accountable, but also make them undertake remedial measures in case of spills.
It is very unnerving that apart from the looting of the country’s resources with most of the returns going to the multinational companies, we should also be saddled with destroyed environments.
All these developments signify that government and the citizens endowed with offshore oil might fall into great danger if lessons are not learnt from the previous catastrophes and the Gulf of Mexico/BP offshore installation — which saw five million barrels of crude oil gushing out.
Not one single day passed without persistent calls on both the American government and BP to ensure the mess was taken care of quickly and properly.
In November last year, a large quantity of oil believed to have been spilled by an oil exploration firm, one of the Jubilee partners, was sighted along the coast in the Ahanta West District in the Western Region.
The oil spillage, covering about 8000 metres, was detected by communities along the coast as it gradually moved toward the shore. This denied hundreds of the residents and tourists access to the beaches. The lives of marine animals were also affected, as dead fish were washed ashore.
At Asmkow, a fishing community in the Western Region, the spilled oil was washed ashore — affecting the beaches and its activities before gradually moving toward other communities such as Mpatato and Adjoa in the Ahanta West District of the Western region.
The effects of this spillage, although small as compared to other spillages, remain fresh and are haunting the coastal communities and the entire enclave.
Investigations have revealed that approximately 699 barrels of mud, which contains poisonous heavy metals, was spilled by oil companies on three occasions — and this has affected the country’s marine ecosystem and the activities of coastal communities.
The environmental devastation following the spillage has been rated as without doubt the worst of its kind in the history of catastrophic events happening to the country’s ecosystem in recent times.
The Jubilee Operators have assured of adequate equipment and trained staff with superior capacity to deploy and rescue affected coastlines in the event of an oil-spillage, and that 76 sensitivite areas have been identified.
Mr. Gayheart Mensah, External Affairs and Communication Manager at Tullow Oil PLC, told B&FT in an interview that Tullow is fully prepared with modern environmental standards that will respond to emergencies like oil-spillage and other related contingencies.
“Tullow’s environmental and safety standards are a major focus of the company, and we make sure that all our systems have the required international standard to ensure that all equipment we use in our facilities offshore are tried and tested in terms of required environmental standards.
“We make sure that all properties and facilities are monitored; we have well-trained personnel who are experienced in environmental and safety and monitoring in our processes to ensure that they are able to stand the test of time.
“In addition to that, every staff is trained in environmental safety, and we have what is called the stop process; for instance, any staff who identifies an hazard in any aspect of our operation or processes is empowered to stop the process immediately and ensure that whatever he/she has identified is corrected before the process is continued.
He added: “Over and above that, we tie into various emergency response systems. We have capacity in-country to manage a certain level of environmental mishap and we have equipment and facility for that; we have trained people for that.
The FPSO itself comes with some facility that can manage any environmental hazard. Beyond that, we tie into sub-regional systems.
“For instance, whatever happens that is beyond our capacity to manage, we just have to set into motion and activate to sub-regional response — and we will get a response from across the sub-region,” he said.
“There are all kinds of vessels and facilities that will be deployed to come and assist us to manage in case we are unable to rescue the affected communities. Again, we tie into international systems.
“It all depends on the magnitude of what has happened. In-house, we can manage; sub-regionally we tie into very efficient response systems; internationally we tie into similar systems.”
Ms. Sherry Ayitey, the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, has disclosed that the Marine Pollution Bill that is currently before parliament is expected to be passed into law by the end of this year.
The passage of the law will indeed come as positive news to the country, and indicates its readiness to safeguard inhabitant along the coast expected to be affected in times of oil spillage.
This will provide the legal framework that seeks to protect the population and ensure safety of the environment during the operations of the Jubilee partners.
“Hopefully, we believe the bill will be approved; and once it has been approved, it will be effective in the country ensure that our environment which the Jubilee partners are operating in is safe for all,” Ms. Ayitey told the media in Takoradi after her visit to the Jubilee Field.
Moreover, ZEAL Environmental Technologies Limited (ZETL), the company responsible for managing oil-waste at the Jubilee Field, says approximately 17 communities have been identified along the Western coastline — starting from Takoradi to Half Assini in the Western Region — as communities likely to be severely hit in the event of an oil-spill in the Jubilee Field.
According to Kwaku Ennin, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ZETL in an interview with B&FT in Takoradi, as part of an oil-spill rescue plan, an agreement has been signed with the Jubilee partners to ensure maximum safety and protection of affected coastline communities.
ZETL’s involvement, as part of the agreement, is to create awareness and ensure community engagement, educate and deepen awareness about oil-spills and their possible dangers.
Mr. Ennin explained that ZETL has been engaged in shore-line clean-up training in case there is a spill. “We are training 22 of our staff to handle equipment, and these staff will transfer the acquired knowledge to the selected community members that will be targetted for mobilising the shoreline clean-up in times of spillage.
“The oil company has their equipment, but when it comes to mobilising the clean-up you have to involve the local communities. The oil company is helping with the training at the shoreline.
“We are now making preparation to set up two offices between at Agam and Takoradi in the Western Region, to enable us effectively offer training assistance to the selected community members and also monitor activities of the coastline.
He disclosed that about 340 people have been trained, and these local community members are dedicated and specialised people ready to rescue coastal dwellers during an oil-spill.
“We will engage them by paying them something small, but when there is a spillage they will be called and we will put them on.“We have equipment, we have the boom; we train them how to contain and use the pump, the receptacles, and they have to control the place so that the people do not step in it,” he said.
Oil-spill and associated devastation
More and more oil discoveries are being made offshore the Gulf of Guinea, and if the necessary precautionary measures are not taken the abundant fishery resources of the area will suffer permanent damage — thereby destroying the ecosystem which is already under threat from the precarious activities of oil tankers.
Fifty percent of marine oil spills are caused by lack of maintenance of corroded oil pipelines and tankers. Many of the pipes used by these companies might have not been changed in decades, and thus the now-decrepit pipes have become easily susceptible to damage.
Furthermore, another twenty-eight percent of the oil-spills are caused by sabotage (in Nigeria).
The spills threaten the diverse ecosystem present in the region. In addition, the livelihoods of the coastal inhabitants of the area are threatened.
These people are mainly farmers and fishermen, and thus when their resources are destroyed they have no means of making an income. Additionally, scientists believe that 60 percent of West Africa’s fish stock breeds in rivers along the Gulf of Guinea.
The destruction of people’s source of income, food, recreation and entire livelihood will be continuously effected by the spills should they occur. Unfortunately, very little effort would be made to correct the situation in times of devastation.
The greatest danger the some 17 coastline communities and their ecosystem as well as the shoreline of the Gulf of Guinea now face is oil-spills, as more and more oil discoveries are being made offshore.
West Cape Three Points does not seem prepared for these eventualities. Maybe the recent Gulf of Mexico spill will throw more light on the problem and increase awareness of the potential predicament and hence prod government into enacting stringent laws to protect areas which are home to various fish species and populations.