Jubilee Field, ‘Ten Project’ & The Dying Whales
When that blue and white-coloured whale mascot turned up at Tullow's forum in Takoradi sometime in 2013, participants of the event were stunned to their teeth and wondered the mission of the mascot at such a gathering.
It was only when the mascot displayed a placard with inscription: “Why are my friends dying?”, did the gathering realized the level of anger of the people of the Western Region regarding the dying whales that had bedeviled their region.
At the time, not less than 21 whales had been washed ashore in the region in the space of just four years with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) having no clue to the cause of the phenomenon.
Tullow, the lead operator at the Jubilee Field, had also adopted what I describe as 'lazy reaction' in its public relations strategy to protect its image regarding the development. The company only stated that it had nothing to do with the whales' episode but did nothing to show that it was concerned about the phenomenon by at least, sympathizing with the fishing communities.
The EPA had the worst of postures as it did not only failed to investigate the cause of the historic beaching of whales in the region but also consistently without any scientific grounds, dissociated the drilling of oil at the Jubilee Field from the raging discussion.
The Western Region's case was simple- government must investigate the matter. For them, the incidents surrounding the deaths of the whales all pointed to the oil as the cause.
They could not fathom why the rapidity of the phenomenon commenced only in 2009- exactly the year of intensive oil exploration activities at the Jubilee Field in preparation for full-scale production in 2010. Besides, only front-line oil and gas districts such as Jomoro, Ellembelle and Ahanta West, were experiencing this phenomenon the most.
That apart, there was the heaping of Sargassum, a sea weed, along beaches of coastal communities in the region in unusual quantities, within the same period.
It was only after persistent pressure from fisher-folks, civil society groups, chiefs and residents of the Western Region that the Office of the President directed the Ministry of Environmental, Science, Technology and Innovation to constitute a committee to investigate the matter.
Sad to say, but the nine-member committee after expending state resources on their so-called investigation which I followed with keen interest, could only come out with what I term as 'ridiculous conjectures'.
Funniest among the committee's findings was that, the whales might have died in other West African countries and the carcass driven by sea current onto the shore of Ghana's Western Region. With this, I ask myself- so, is it that the dead whales had a consensus to beach in the Western Region? And they all preferred only front-line oil and gas communities?
Well, I need not go much into the committee's report because that's a discussion for another day.
But, for now, Tullow and its oil friends including the EPA seem to be on a tranquil-holiday from the whales' story because the situation has virtually returned to normalcy.
And it looks like the agitation that characterized the country's oil industry in 2013 over this issue is gradually ebbing into history.
However, it is not exactly so. My layman's analysis tells me that the phenomenon may arise again.
The reason is simple. In Tullow's own Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Jubilee Field, many species of whales and other marine mammals were identified West off the Jubilee Field.
The Tweneboa, Enyira, Ntomme oil field, popularly known as TEN Project, which Tullow and its oil friends expect to kick-start by 2016 is also 30 kilometers West off the Jubilee Field- exactly the location the marine mammals have been identified. It is clear that marine lives in that area are likely to be endangered.
Despite this foreseen threat, Tullow and its oil friends remain silent and would not even begin to engage the fishing communities as to how to address the issue should it arise.
Assuming without admitting that the oil find has nothing to do with the death of the whales, does it not make common sense and in the interest of the oil companies, for them to start organizing some sensitization programmes for fishing communities in the region on their operations especially, when they've realized that communities hold wrong perceptions about their operations?
No! Tullow and its friends will rather relax in their swivel chairs and adopt 'lazy reactions' to concerns from fishing communities. The EPA will also sit unconcerned and resort to its usual conjectures.
This posturing is very unfortunate, to say the least. It is not promoting a healthy relationship between the people of the Western Region and the oil companies. Rather, it is creating slippery grounds for conflict and mayhem.
I've said it!