Exploration of oil and gas though brings enormous benefits to Ghana but its adverse effect on the environment is massive.
For instance statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency states that about 22 whales have so far died and washed ashore in the Western Region since 2010, years after oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Ghana.
Other coastal areas in the Central and the Greater Accra Regions have also recorded such cases but most were reported in the Western Region, where the Cape Three points, the place the Jubilee Field is located.
Although the EPA denied linkages of the dead whales to oil exploration in the region, watchers of the sector think otherwise.
Some analyst believe that the chemicals and processes adopted in the exploration somewhat pollute the water bodies hence threatening living organisms in the ocean.
Whales often communicate with each other using sound waves however; analysts argue that seismic blasting under water during oil exploratory missions affect the whales thus causing them to experience temporary or permanent hearing loss, which impacts nearly every aspect of their daily activities – navigating, communicating, searching for food.
Oil spill is very dangerous because apart from affecting aquatic animals also affects human inhabitants in catchment areas where oil spills takes place.
It also affects inhabitants economically and socially.
Oil spills often result in both immediate and long-term environmental damage, some of which can last for decades after the spill.
Interestingly, despite these dangers, it took Ghana so many years to pass the Petroleum Exploration and Production Bill into law.
The law seeks to among others, create an enabling environment for increased private sector participation and investment in the petroleum sector, and also strengthen the regulatory framework for healthy competition and quality assurance.
Lack of this law in 2009 made Ghana lose huge sums of money because government could not compel Kosmos Energy to cough up a fine of 35 million dollars for spilling 699 barrels of low toxicity oil-based mud into its offshore operational area.
The company argued that the government had no power under the country’s constitution or any other law of the country to impose a fine on any person in the event of oil spills.
It also described the fine as “totally unlawful, unconstitutional, ultra-vires and without basis.”
This notwithstanding, the passage of the bill delayed in Parliament despite several calls and pressure from civil society organizations.
It was later passed in August 2015.
It is an undisputable fact that areas where natural resources including oil and gas are explored benefit from infrastructural developments.
For instance, in and around towns closer to the Jubilee Field, government had to construct roads, pipelines, oil storage facilities, refineries among others in bid to improve the transportation network for the transport of oil finds from the upstream sector to the downstream sector.
These usually require huge equipment and destruction of vast lands and properties.
These processes strips the environment of vegetation, increases erosion (which could lead to flooding) and threatens wildlife habitats.
The impacts caused to public lands by construction of oil and gas sites, roads through farm lands and forest reserves are often irreversible.
In 2014, government compulsorily acquired some farming lands at Atuabo for the construction of the Atuabo gas processing plant at Ellembele in the Western Region.
Though the project has brought development to the region and has created job opportunities, the damage caused the land acquired from the poor farmers and indigenes cannot be underestimated.
The cutting of trees and clearing of farm lands for such projects increases the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and reduces oxygen which is needed by humans.
Leakages from oil and gas pipelines also pollute the wind. Combustion from machines on offshore oil rigs as well as the burn-off of gases also causes air pollution.
Experts estimate that a single oil rig can pollute as much 7,000 cars driving 50 miles per day.
It is also estimated that an average oil and gas exploration well spews roughly 50 tons of nitrogen oxides, 13 tons of carbon monoxide, 6 tons of sulfur oxides, and 5 tons of volatile organic chemicals which are dangerous for human consumption.
Noise from machines
Noise pollution from large machinery, such as large power generation units (eg diesel engines or gas turbines), compressors and fluid pumps has also affect from inhabitants in catchment areas.
Though some assessments done by experts in the sector listed sound pollution as being minimal in the sector there is still cause of alarm since a chunk of machines could cause high levels of noise.
Methane, the main component in natural gas, is up to 84 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, trapping heat more effectively and intensifying global warming.
A study conducted in the US states that 21 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, can be traced to oil, gas and coal extracted from federal lands.
Some of the dangerous fumes and chemicals used in the exploration and extraction of oil and gas sometimes are pumped into the atmosphere through leakages on pipelines and other storage devices.
Experts in the sector reveal that carbon emissions from oil rigs if unchecked could impose high costs to society in coming decades in relation to human health, flood damages, agricultural productivity and other impacts.
By: Godwin Akweiteh Allotey/ghanadecides.com/Ghana