by: Mariilyn Badoo
History has provided several examples in which states were willing to go to war to obtain oil resources or in defense of an oil producing region. States have even become involved in conflicts over areas which may only possibly contain oil resources.
This trend is likely to continue in the future until the world’s oil wells run dry. One problem associated with this dependence on oil is the extremely damaging effects that production, distribution, and use of these resources have on the environment. Environmental pollution is one of the major challenges that countries engaged in the exploitation of natural resources have to tackle. Overcoming these concerns will require well planned environmental management and control regimes.
Ghana is not new to the damaging effects of the exploitation of a natural resource to the environment; it has some experience with environmental pollution caused by the mining of solid minerals. Communities in the mining areas visibly suffer a lot of environmental damage and hazards. In many instances, the sources of their drinking water are polluted with toxic chemicals and the people are infected with strange skin diseases, as a result of chemicals emitted into the atmosphere. The cyanide spillage caused by Goldfields Ghana Limited (GGL) in 2001 is a classic example of poor environmental management in Ghana.
Mining and oil extraction have severe environmental and human consequences for the indigenous people who play host to these activities. Although most countries devote huge financial resources in search for oil, less attention is often given to the toll of extraction on the environment, including surrounding water bodies. The use of Cyanide and the flaring of gas are two major environmental and health hazards that must be contained. One potential solution to this problem is to begin to invest more in renewable sources of fuel, and devise a more environmentally-friendly modes of industrial production to reduce the growing demand for minerals.
The effects of oil on marine life are caused by either the physical nature of the oil (physical contamination and smothering) or by its chemical components (toxic effects and accumulation leading to tainting). Marine life may also be affected by clean-up operations or indirectly through physical damage to the habitats in which plants and animals live. The animals and plants most at risk are those that could come into contact with a contaminated sea surface: marine mammals and reptiles; birds that feed by diving or form flocks on the sea.
Runoffs from petroleum processing and petrochemical plants have dumped tons of toxic wastes into nearby waters or rivers. Most of these rivers are usually the main source of livelihood for indigenes. Residents are deprived of their regular fish, and water for drinking and for daily household chores due to pollution either through oil spill or toxics from mineral extractions. Almost all the rivers and lagoons in the country have been irreparably polluted through mining activities and oil spill.
The Pra, Birim, Ankobra, Oti, Tano ,Offin, Bonsa, Kubi, etc. are major rivers and lagoons that have all turned brownish, and completely destroyed. Their quality and sustenance are endangered by the invasion of ‘galamsey’ operators. The situation has imposed on residents, another challenge of looking for other water sources. Sadly, communities have no choice but to continue drinking the highly polluted water.
Oil has been an important part of Ghana’s economy since vast reserves of petroleum were discovered in 2007. The social and environmental cost of oil production has been enormous. They include destruction of wildlife and biodiversity, loss of fertile soil, pollution of air and drinking water, degradation of farmland and damage to aquatic ecosystems, all of which have caused serious health problems for the inhabitants of areas surrounding oil and mining production.
Approximately 75% of gas produced globally is flared causing considerable ecological and physical damage to other resources such as land/soil, water and vegetation. A visit to Atuabo in the Western region of Ghana where Ghana’s gas processing plant is sited reveals a very disturbing picture as residents complain that the daily flaring of gas is inhibiting their reproductive abilities. The excessive heat emanating from the flaring, they claim, prevents them from conceiving and in some cases impacts negatively on the sexual desires of the men.
Gas flares, which are often times situated close to villages, produce soot which is deposited on building roofs of neighboring villages. Whenever it rains, the soot is washed off. The black ink-like water running from the roofs is believed to contain chemicals which adversely affect the fertility of the soil. Gas pipelines have also caused irreparable damage to lands once used for agricultural purposes. These pipes should be buried to reduce risk of fracture and spillage. However, they are often laid above ground and run directly through villages, where oil leaks have rendered the land economically useless.
Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) Act was enacted into law and tasked to among other environmental related issues to promote effective planning in the management of the environment while prescribing standards and guidelines relating to the pollution of air, water, land and any other forms of environmental pollution including the discharge of waste and the control of toxic substances.
Under the auspicious of the Ministry of Environment ,Science Technology and Innovation, the agency is to improve, conserve and promote the country’s environment and striving for environmentally sustainable development with sound, efficient resource management, taking into account social and equity issues. Its mission is to manage, protect and enhance the country’s environment and seek common solutions to global environmental problems. Sadly,the story is not so encouraging as both the mother agency and its district agencies whose duty is to monitor and enforce the laws do not have adequate capacity to enforce the laws and have therefore failed in the execution of their monitoring and supervision roles.