The discovery of oil and gas in commercial quantities in 2007 presented the country with immense expectations as far as economic transformation was concerned. Indeed, it is great news if a county is into oil and gas exploration, due to reduction in government expenditure on importation of fuel, expansion of the economy, as well as expansion of tangible infrastructure. However, the activities that culminates into the finished products of the resource is very crucial to the sustainability of the environment, given harmful effects on the environment, which are well documented and known globally.
One of such harmful activities with regard to oil and gas exploration is gas flaring. Gas flaring have been condemned severally in different countries of the world, though the practice is still obtainable in some countries with many calling for a stop. As far as gas flaring is concerned, it involves the burning of natural gas that is associated with crude oil when it is pumped up from the ground.
Ghana’s jubilee field have not been spared from this since operations started. The jubilee partners such as Kosmos Energy and Tullow over the years been cited in various incidence of gas flaring with various communities along the operational areas calling for a halt to the practice due to the environmental and health implications associated with the practice. Flaring produces a cocktail of toxic chemicals such as benzene that are harmful to the local environment and to human health.
According to the communications manager of the Ghana Gas Company, gas flaring was stopped in September 2014, when the Ghana Gas Infrastructure came on stream, however, Tullow’s license to flare gas was due to expire in October 2014. The company requested an extension to the license from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to continue with the exercise. Tullow claims the gas flaring is done due to “health and safety” reasons. Yet this makes a mockery of the government of Ghana “zero flaring” policy and sets a low bar for corporate compliance with environmental regulations.
Gas flaring contributes to climate change, which has serious implications for Ghana, the West Africa sub region and the world at large. The burning of fossil fuel, mainly coal, oil and gas-greenhouse gases-has led to warming up the world and is projected to worsen in the 21st century according to the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC).
Gas flaring contributes to climate change by emission of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Venting of the gas without burning, a practice for which flaring seems often to be treated as a synononym, releases methane, the second main greenhouse gas. Together and crudely, these gases make up about 80% of global warming to date.
The communities close to the Atuabo gas processing plant in the western region have continuously expressed concerns about gas flaring. The residents cite that the flaring of the gas usually happens at night.
The flares associated with gas flaring give rise to atmospheric contaminants. These include oxides of Nitrogen, Carbon and Sulphur, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and ash, photochemical oxidants, and hydrogen sulphide, which acidify the soil, hence depleting soil nutrient. Previous studies have shown that the nutritional value of crops within such vicinity are reduced
Kwame Nsiah, a farmer in the Ellembelle district in an interview says the practice has serious implications on his livelihoods, saying, it becomes impossible to have a great farm yield if the practice continues due to the destruction to the composition of the soil.
The frustrated farmer therefore calls on policy makers and the appropriate bodies to put in place all the necessary measures to safeguard their livelihoods and sustain the environment.
Currently Ghana is preparing the Marine Pollution Bill-a right approach to prevent any harmful effect to the environment as a result of oil and gas operations.
It is worthy to note that acid rains have been linked to the activities of gas flaring. The primary causes of acid rain are emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which combine with atmospheric moisture to form sulfuric acid and nitric acid respectively.
Another resident, Henry Mensah, was very much concern about the health implications of gas flaring to health of the communities, particularly on children, saying, the activity will create lots of health concerns to the future in terms lung problems and even cancer in the long term.
The implication of gas flaring on human health are all related to the exposure of those hazardous air pollutants emitted during incomplete combustion of gas flare such as cancer, neurological, reproductive and developmental effects. Deformities in children, lung damage and skin problems have also been reported.
Mr Mensah noted that it is imperative on the government to be firm and stand by all regulations to prevent the companies operating in the Jubilee Field to maintain high environmental standards to protect the needs of the current and future generations.
Concerns by an environmental safety advocate and youth climate change activists have raised in the local media. The Paramount Chief of the Western Nzema Traditional Area, AwulaeAnorAdjaye III, is reported in the local media to call on officials of the Ghana National Gas Company (Ghana Gas) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to inform the communities on the processes involved in the production of gas and its consequences.
Chibeze Ezekiel, the Coordinator of Ghana Reducing Our Carbon [G- ROC], a youth-led grassroots movement in the country, says flaring contributes immensely to climate change by emission of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
“Already, there had been visible evidence of climate change in the country and that include rising temperatures in all ecological zones, rapid change in rainfall patterns, loss of soil fertility, loss of biodiversity, drastic decline in none timber forest, drying up of major streams and rivers among other things which is having adverse impact on livelihood, health, and nutrition,’’ he said.
The EPA said the apprehension of the communities could be attributed to the fact that Ghana Gas was not carrying out the sustained community engagement, which was part of the requirement.
The EPA said it permitted Ghana Gas to flare about 16mmscf or more during its commissioning stage and submit a report to it at the end of the commissioning period.
It said even though EPA was satisfied with what was going on at the plant by way of flaring gas when the need arose, it was important for the community relations unit of Ghana Gas to educate the people regularly.
The EPA admitted that flaring and venting were two negative environmental consequences of oil and gas production, and the public was rightly concerned about the potential environmental effects of such development.
It, however, indicated that there was no time limit to how long it would take for the commissioning process to achieve full production, and said Ghana Gas had to ensure effective awareness creation.
These difficulties faced by local communities from gas flares are a sufficient justification for ending gas flaring practice.
Government should as a matter of urgency, make stringent laws and take drastic action against defaulting companies not just by payment of fines. Fines for defaulting companies should be so exorbitant so as to deter them.
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