Anti-gas flaring activists have warned that apart from the environmental and human health implications, Ghana would lose millions of dollars as a result of gas flaring. This follows the Ghanaian government's decision to allow Jubilee partners to flare gas from the Jubilee Field to save the oil wells from collapsing.
The Jubilee partners - Tullow Plc, Kosmos, Anadarko, PetroSA and the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) were given approval to flare gas in late May this year which is against the country's "No Flaring Policy". The Head of Public Affairs of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Angelina Mensah, whose agency and the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum approved the flaring insisted that they took the decision in the interest of the economy.
But the "national policy no flaring still stands", she said. Mrs. Mensah explained that not being allowed to flare the gas could damage Tullow's reservoir, and drastically cut down production. The Managing Director of Tullow Oil Ghana Limited, Charles Darku said that production at Jubilee Field had been reduced by almost 5,000 barrels every day because of their inability to flare the natural gas.
The Tullow Oil Ghana, which is the unit operator of Jubilee Field and its partners are permitted to flare 500 Million Standard Cubic Feet (MMSCF) of gas per month until the end of October 2014. However, the Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP), a leading energy think-tank argued that much of this gas which is to be flared could be converted for domestic use and for electricity generation purposes.
This is because the country is faced with power generation shortage, so there was no excuse to flare Jubilee field gas in the first place, according opponents. A Senior Energy Policy Manager at ACEP, Nasir Alfa Mohammed added: "By so doing the level of electricity generation in the country could be raised closer to meeting national demand. This brings to the fore the importance of hastening the completion of the Western Corridor Gas Infrastructure Development Project to manage the gas to the benefit of Ghana rather than flaring the gas".
In ACEP's recent report on gas development in Ghana, it expressed disgust at the delay in the completion of the Gas Infrastructure Project popularly known as Atuabo Gas plant being constructed by SINOPEC. It "cited the associated cost and revenue losses to the state. The flaring of gas is yet another cost Ghana and Ghanaians have to suffer as a result of our indecision as a country which has led to the delay in the completion of the Atuabo Gas project".
Mr. Alfa Mohammed and his crusaders at ACEP therefore strongly condemned the decision by Ghanaian government to allow the flaring of gas as they believe that enough due diligence was not done; and that the decision was largely influenced by financial consideration rather than the welfare of the people. In the meantime, they recommended that the approval for flaring was effected, the process should be well monitored and the Jubilee partners must be compelled to disclose the volumes of gas flared on daily basis.
The Jubilee partners should also publish their contingency plan in case adverse effects have been established as a result of the flaring, Mr. Alfa Mohammed stressed.Government must also conduct an environmental audit when the flaring is ended to assess its potential impact on communities. The findings from the study could guide Ghana on future flaring decisions, according to the anti-gas flaring crusaders.
EFFECTS OF FLARING GAS Ghana's renowned oil economist, Dr. Mohammed Amin Adam had warned that any decision by the government to allow the Jubilee partners to flare gas would risk the lives of several Ghanaians, fish, and other marine lives.
"When the gas is flared into the air, it comes back as acid rain which runs into water bodies, farmlands and crops. If fishes take in the polluted water and are subsequently eaten by human beings, their health would be at risk," he noted. According to him, people could get dreadful skin diseases as a result of their exposure to the flared gas. "Some people can also get eye disease, especially itchy eyes. So whatever the quantity you flare, it is bad." Dr. Amin Adam, who is also the Executive Director of the Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP) stated.
A review of extant literature which draws more light on the effects of gas flaring has shown that the potential exposure of hazardous air pollutants that are emitted during incomplete combustion of gas flare could result in adverse health impacts such as cancer, deformities in children, lung damage, skin problems, and neurological, reproductive and developmental effects in surrounding communities.
EFFECTS ON ENVIRONMENT Gas flaring will contribute significantly to greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. This will contribute to climate change, which will have serious implications for both Ghana and the rest of the world. As is the case in Nigeria, gas flaring could also result in acid rains which could have adverse environmental impacts.
For example, it has been reported that corrugated roofs in the Niger Delta State of Nigeria have been corroded by the composition of the rain that falls as a result of flaring. The primary causes of acid rain are emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which combine with atmospheric moisture to form sulphuric acid and nitric acid respectively.
Acid rain acidifies lakes and streams and damages vegetation. In addition, acid rain accelerates the decay of building materials and paints. The flares associated with gas flaring could contaminate the atmosphere with resultant environmental harm. Science has proven that atmospheric contaminants resulting from gas flaring such as oxides of Nitrogen, Carbon and Sulphur, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and ash, photochemical oxidants, and hydrogen sulphide could acidify the soil and deplete soil nutrient, hence reducing the nutritional value of crops within such vicinity.
It has also been established that the tremendous heat that is produced and the acid nature of soil pH in gas flaring could result in no vegetation in the areas surrounding the flare. This could affect agriculture - which is the mainstay of Ghana's economy.