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CSOs question nation's readiness to manage environmental challenges

By Ghana|Joy News|Benjamin Tetteh

A year after Ghana started its oil production questions are being asked about the country's preparedness to handle major environmental issues like pollution.

Community leaders whose areas are to host the country's petroleum infrastructure are demanding what safety measures are in place for their people.

Civil Society and Academia are also questioning if the country has fared well in its first year of oil production. Civil Society has, for instance, raised concerns about which government body can spearhead the control of a major oil spillage, and they contend that there seems to be little coordination between agencies of the state who will deal with such problems.

One group that has pushed for safe mining in Ghana is WACAM. And the group is pushing for safety guarantees from government and the Jubilee partners. Daniel Owusu-Koranteng is the Executive Director of WACAM. He argued that Ghana ought to have learnt a lesson from mining. He says government and the Jubilee partners have not assured the nation enough of their preparedness to curtail major accidents.

“Even in mining we are still behind schedule, weak regulations, and others”, he argued. For over hundred years Ghana has been mining gold and other gems, but Mr. Owusu-Koranteng argues the nation is yet to fully manage environmental concerns in the mining sector.

“With these kinds of situations how can somebody assure me that we are prepared for an oil spill?” he queried.

Already, coastal communities along the Jubilee Field have reported 8 dead whales which were washed to shore, within a year. In the past, communities here report of whales washing ashore alive, and the locals would push them back into the sea. But within a year of oil production and 8 whales have been reported dead. This is a concern to WACAM, and the group wants answers from the regulators.

And WACAM is not alone in asking for answers. One community that has been mentioned to host Ghana's gas infrastructure is Atoabo. The community is the closest to shore from the Jubilee Field.

Paramount Chief for the area, Awulae Amihere Kpanyinli told Joy News he and his people need assurances from government and operators of any gas project in his area, of safety. And he says he and his people “will have to do some consultations” to ensure that any guarantees given them are up to international standards.

“There've been projects like that done around the world. And so we do have some sort of inclining in terms of what wrong. So we will be looking to these countries for advice”, he said.

He said that is when his people will be sure that they are safe.

“That probably will give us a little bit satisfaction- emotional satisfaction maybe as to how this is going to work out”.

Meanwhile, as work goes on in the Jubilee field plans are ongoing for government to grant licenses to oil companies to prospect for oil on-land in the Volta Basin. Initial estimates from government's National Petroleum Corporation indicate high chances of finding large deposits of oil in the Volta Basin. And as government gets ready to provide such licenses a petroleum Engineer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology is warning of the dangers the nation faces in combining both onshore and offshore production. Dr. Stephen Donyina, in an interview asked:

“Should we combine both onshore and offshore drilling?”

He says government must not rush to start onshore oil production when it has not developed the capacity to handle current offshore challenges, with regard to the oil production. He said if the nation fails to deal with problems posed by offshore drilling, “how can it deal with those on land right in the midst the people”.

But the country's regulatory body, the Environmental Protection Agency has assured the nation that it is working hard to deal with such concerns. Deputy Director of the EPA, Kojo Agbenor-Efunam dispelled notions that Environmental Impact Assessments conducted before the Jubilee Oil production, was inadequate. According to him each of the Jubilee partners submitted comprehensive data on their EIAs and the EPA scrutinized and made corrections, where necessary, before granting them the go ahead to operate. He also announced that since 2009 three separate baseline surveys have been conducted on the country's offshore.

He admitted the EPA has logistical challenges and has so far relied on foreign vessels to undertake undersea operations. He added: “currently there is no clear institution to handle issues relating to major accidents”. He cited the situation in some Western countries where governments created separate institutions to spearhead cleanup operations during a spill.

Mr. Agbenor-Efunam wants to see more collaboration between the various stakeholders in curbing environmental disasters.

Meanwhile, the EPA is constructing its first laboratory to be cited in the Western Region Capital, Secondi-Takoradi.

This will be a major boost to the EPA's operations as it readies to enforce the country's environmental laws, especially in the extractive industry.

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