13.09.2010 Feature Article

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and its environmental implications, a Good lesson for Ghana to learn from.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and its environmental implications, a Good lesson for Ghana to learn from.
13.09.2010 LISTEN

The Gulf of Mexico Oil spill, which is tagged by pundits as the largest in the history of the United States of America has gained popularity and the needed attention solely because of its devastating effects on the environment, the economy, marine life, livelihood of the people currently living in and around the gulf and posterity. Perhaps, the only salient and unsung ' positive side ' of this cataclysm is the many lessons it presents to other existing oil producing countries and particularly novices like Ghana who recently found oil on its shores. It must be said that, when the green leaves are burning dry leaves should take precautions.

The disheveling effects of the Gulf of Mexico or the British Petroleum oil spill are something no Oil company, government or country will like to experience. The explosion killed eleven platform workers and injured seventeen others. The accident was described by the White House as the worst environmental disaster the US has ever faced, the spill continues to cause extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats as well as the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries. More than 400 species dwelling in the Gulf islands and marshlands are at serious risk; most disturbing is the danger of losing endangered species like Kemp's Ridley turtle that also thrive there.

The financial burden cannot be overemphasized; On 5 July BP reported that its own expenditures on the oil spill had reached $3.12 billion, including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf States, claims paid, and federal costs. Many people, especially fishermen and fishmongers have been deprived of their means of livelihood. Even though British Petroleum has promised to compensate them, it is still an ache of financial burden and temporal discomfort to all the stakeholders of the Gulf. The most worrying especially for those of us in this part of the world is that, Experts have been quick to point out that the accident will push up global crude prices over the long term.

There are also treacherous health complications that accompany Oil spillage; Crude oil contains a mixture of volatile hydrocarbon compounds, which include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes, which are known carcinogens. PAHs have caused tumors in laboratory animals when they breathed these substances. Symptoms of exposure to these petroleum compounds include dizziness, headaches, nausea, and rapid heartbeat, which are all shared symptoms of dehydration. Kerosene (a component of the dispersants used to disperse oil spilled) exposure causes similar symptoms. As of 29 May, ten oil spill clean-up workers had been admitted to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, Louisiana. All but two had been hospitalized suffering from symptoms emergency room doctors diagnosed as dehydration. There are also long term health complications that cannot be improvised by health experts.

Experience is not always the best teacher, it is most a time pertinent to learn from the mishap of others and learn to avoid them. The Government of United States of America mandated by their laws is holding British Petroleum entirely responsible for the accident and its attendant economic and environmental implications. The great lesson for Ghana however, is that laws that defines the operations and obligations of Oil companies in the USA and for that matter other countries in the western world should be replicated and even further toughened to the best interest of Ghana.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is an important lesson for the domestic and foreign oil industry, environmental protection experts, and the government of Ghana. All safety practices with regards to oil production done elsewhere should also be enforced in Ghana. It will be wise on our part to avoid repeating the mess that has been met on our environment by the mining industry. About 40% of Ghana's population live along the coast and majority of these people are fishermen and people who one way or the other depend on the sea for their livelihood. It is therefore imperative to ensure that the necessary laws are enacted to ensure that the lives and livelihood of these people are not jeopardized in any way with the advent to oil production in the country.

There is the need for parliamentarians to put their party colors aside, put the nation at heart and come together to formulate Stern and astute laws that will hold oil companies entirely responsible for any oil spillage and its attendant detrimental upshots that emanates from their operations. It is also very important to seek the views of our compatriots and foreigners who are experts in the Oil industry when passing any Oil bill into law. Companies that are not willing to conform to our laws should not be given the permit to operate. It is also crucial to ensure that only companies that have a good track record with regards to safety and professionalism are granted permit to do any drilling in the country.

The Environmental Protection Agency and other state institutions mandate to ensure the country's environmental safety must ensure that the country's marine life and ecology is not put at risk in anyway by the activities of the Oil drilling companies. Protection of marine life and ecology is given less attention in Ghana unlike partisan politics and football. There are therefore few people with expertise in this area; the advent of Oil drilling in our country has therefore further necessitated the urgent need to train people in marine science and ecology to ensure that we have the people with the requisite knowledge to keep check of the marine environment in order to ensure that our marine ecology is safe.

The key to protecting our environment in the midst of oil production and for that matter the development of our dear country is for us to ensure that our laws are enforced to the later. Many international companies in Ghana that also operate in other countries like USA and other countries in the western world adhere strictly to the laws there. The sad story from the Ghanaian perspective however, is that, most of these same companies do not obey the laws in this country with regards to their operations and code of conduct. There is the need for a collective effort by all patriotic and well meaning Ghanaians to ensure that, Ghanaians are not taken for a ride owing to the negligence of some selfish and greedy politicians. The Oil found should be a blessing, not a curse.

Elvis Akwasi Acheampong,
Freelance writer and president of Green Ghana Foundation.