Ghanaians were overly elated on the announcement of commercial on-shore oil production in the Western Region. The enthusiasm that greeted the news reflected the desire and expectations of Ghanaians for another source of reliable revenue source. Of course, the articles and stories of the “Dutch Disease” a phrase commonly used to describe the negative impact of oil exploration and general mineral mining in any country.
Both local and international agencies expended a chunk of their budget on reminding Ghanaians about the effects of over reliance on oil production as a source of revenue for development. The many stories associated with the Niger Delta in Nigerian and the failure of Nigeria, one of the biggest oil producing countries in Africa, to enjoy the full benefits of oil production.
There were also volumes of information disseminated on best practices in some countries which included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Norway and Russia. Although the almost 100,000 per barrel estimated oil expected daily from the oil fields is peanuts compared to the more than two million enjoyed by Angola and Nigeria, a lot of positive myth was created about our oil reserves.
For decades, residents of the Niger Delta and other oil producing communities continue to fight oil companies and local government authorities over the destruction of their natural environment. Shell for instance is currently facing a legal suit by more than 40,000 people from two communities, Ogale and Bille. For years these communities and others have had to suffer the consequences for the pollution of their main water bodies and the total destruction of their ecosystem much to their disadvantage.
A recent historic programme embarked by the Nigerian government and supported by the United Nations possibly reflects the total destruction of the environment in Nigeria. A one billion dollar clean-up project was launched in Ogoniland in the Niger Delta to reclaim the natural habitat destroyed by commercial oil production in the region.
A media publication by the Guardian website stated that “ the clean-up follows a 2006 request to the UN by the government for a scientific investigation into the level of pollution in Ogoniland. This led to a three-year, landmark UNEP report in 2011 which exposed shocking levels of pollution caused by spills in the region. The report identified 41 grossly polluted sites where oil had entered wells and underground water supplies.
The study found contamination, sometimes more than 40 years after oil was spilled; community drinking water with dangerous concentrations of benzene and other pollutants; soil contamination more than five metres deep; and evidence of oil firms dumping contaminated soil in unlined pits.
Shell has been widely blamed for not cleaning up its pollution. But in a briefing note, the company claims to have done much of the work already”.
The situation in Nigeria and other African countries should be a worry to us in Ghana. They have been several doubts and criticism over the weak institutions in Ghana.
This particular concern has become a constant feature in almost every speech of Ghanaian Ministers, entrepreneurs, business owners and public speakers. The political will to make institutions work and to guarantee that systems work are absent and this entrenched trend is worrying and disturbing. The requisite systems to check oil spillage in oil production in Ghana do not exist.
And efforts to correct these anomalies do not exist. We have instituted structures to check the financial management of oil proceeds with institutions like the Public Interest Accountability Committee, PIAC, tasked with ensuring that oil proceeds are expended for the right purpose.
Speed boats have also been procured to ward off any security threat to the on-shore oil rigs. However there is no clear sign of Ghana procuring the right regulations to protect the environment. The Environment Protection Authority, directives and laws have proven to be ineffective and deficient to address our environmental challenges.
The prevailing situation of the destruction of our environment by illegal mining operations popularly referred to as “galamsey” reflects the powerless nature of the EPA and its inability to draw support from the various security agencies to clamp down on illegal mining.
We appear to be at the mercy and “dirty feet” of most multinationals, totally helpless in enforcing our laws. BP, one of the largest petroleum companies in the world is reported to have budgeted almost $50 billion dollars to settle some civil and criminal suits associated with the massive oil spillage along the Gulf of Mexico. More than 200 million gallons of crude oil was pumped into the Gulf of Mexico for a total of 87 days, making it the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
The authorities of the USA including the USA President Barack Obama personally got involved to ensure that BP budgeted funds to clean the shore and the affected parts of the Gulf of Guinea.
Fisherman in Ghana have complained about the poor trend in the harvesting of sea foods, partly blaming it on the heavy sounds caused by the on-shore rigs and minor spillages associated with oil production at the Cape- three points.
It is clear that the country is not ready to battle and handle any crisis associated with an oil spillage.
There is a looming crisis should there be a spillage or a mechanical defect with any of the oil rigs. Many human lives and the ecosystem are in danger and the requisite system needs to be instituted to prevent a disaster.