Africa’s first petroleum hub: Ekuba’s anxiety and PHDC’s assurance!
For three and half decades, Madam Ekuba Ackah, mother of four has been a fishmonger.
Over the years, she has been getting the variety of fishes for her business and personal consumption from the sea and nearby wetlands in her native Egbazo, a community in the Jomoro District of the Western Region.
Her favourite for business any day is catfish, however, many of her high-income clients prefer delicacies such as tilapia, shrimps, crabs and tympanotonus fuscata, locally known as “Apoofee”, all sourced from the Amanzule Wetlands and the Domunli Lagoon Complex.
According to the National Geographic Society, a wetland is an area of land that is either covered by water or saturated with water—which can come from a river, a lake or even sea water. Besides being major sources of a variety of fisheries resources, wetlands provide an ecology that serves as shelter, feeding grounds, and spawning areas for many species of freshwater and marine origin.
“The Amanzule wetlands and Domunli Lagoon Complex are the only reliable sources I turn to during the lean season when the fishermen are unable to get fish from the sea, and they are fresh and tasty,” says Ekuba, with a grin, which immediately faded into a look of despair.
“I’ve heard that government wants to build some factory or something for petrol business around here and if they take over the land, what will we do? I didn’t go to school, so I learned to sell fish from the women in my family and this is how I survive,” she explains her sudden change in mood to the GNA.
The Petroleum Hub Project
The government has earmarked a 20,000-acre parcel of land in the Jomoro Municipal Area of the Western Region for the building of the petroleum hub project.
The Petroleum Hub Development Corporation (PHDC) describes the Integrated Petroleum Complex as “Africa's first”.
PHDC is intended to be a leading integrated petroleum complex created to add value to the upstream and downstream oil and gas value chain in Africa.
Upon completion, the hub will house a complex web of onshore, offshore and ancillary assets not limited to refineries, petrochemical plants and storage tanks intended to change the face of the petrochemical industry on the continent.
A total of 780,000 jobs will be created during the development phase and beyond with significant positive outlook on the economy.
It is expected to transform the economy through export tax of about $1.56 billion by 2030, increase GDP by about 70 per cent and create jobs in excess of 780,000.
According to PHDC’s official brochure, the key infrastructure of the US$ 60 billion project includes three refineries, expected to produce a minimum capacity of 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) each, five petrochemical plants, huge storage tanks, jetties and port infrastructure.
Ancillary infrastructure and services will also include Liquefied Natural Gas terminals, pipelines, power plant, rail and road network, airfield, water treatment services, repairs and maintenance services, among others.
There will be other infrastructure such as fabrication workshops, and facilities for metering and calibration services, equipment supplies, logistics services, remote monitoring and diagnostics, and lubricant supply and storage.
It will ensure that all Ghanaian homes and industries have access to adequate, reliable, affordable and environmentally-sustainable supply of energy to meet their needs and support the Government’s accelerated growth and development agenda.
The vision is to develop a modern, diversified, efficient and financially sustainable “energy economy.”
Some development experts hail the project as one that holds the potential to generate much revenue and jobs to help stabilise the economy.
As with every major development project that necessitates the resettlement of communities and encroachment of biological resources, residents of local communities, like Ekuba, and environmentalists have become anxious about the project’s possible negative impact on the wellbeing of people and nature.
According to the 2022 Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) conducted and published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Petroleum Hub area covers approximately five kilometres - representing eight per cent of the Jomoro Municipality’s 66 km coastline. The coastline is linked to rivers, estuaries and the greater part of the vast ecologically significant Amanzule wetland and Domunli lagoon complex.
These provide habitats for diverse flora and fauna, which are worth preserving, it states. They also provide essential ecosystem services, which are critical for maintaining a healthy fishery. Most of these ecosystems are of national and international significance, it notes and recommends that more efforts be made to preserve these ecosystems “due to their irreplaceability and strong linkage to the livelihoods of the residents”.
“The rich and largely undisturbed wetlands, estuaries, lagoons and nationally identified
ecologically sensitive areas that are in the district have the potential of diversifying the economy via tourism development if properly developed”.
The SEA classifies the Amanzule Wetlands and the Domunli Lagoon complex, which are within the 20,000-acre parcel of land of the project zone, as “ecologically sensitive”.
The Dweneya, Amanzule and Domunli Lagoons are the largest of such water bodies within the Zone.
These water bodies provide an immense support system to the residents as a source of livelihood (through fishing), irrigation, transportation, and ecosystem service, according to the SEA.
The SEA thus flags the potential loss of biodiversity as the first of about nine concerns raised by stakeholders during the community consultations. It is followed by pollution and climate change.
It reveals that the area earmarked for the hub and its surroundings has a total of 65 species of reptiles.
Eleven of these reptiles and amphibians are of international conservation importance, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, while the remaining 41 are listed as Least Concern with the status of one species not assessed.
The Olive Ridley Sea, Leatherback and Green turtles utilise the area for nesting.
A total of 43 mammal species have also been identified, with 13 of them being on the IUCN Red List, while 27 are listed as least concern.
“For offshore petroleum activities in Ghana, notable biodiversity that will potentially be impacted include marine turtles, marine mammals, and commercially important fish species,” explains Dr Andrews Agyekumhene, a mangrove expert at the Department of Marine and Fisheries Science at the University of Ghana.
“Different aspects of their lives that could be impacted include feeding, breeding, and migration. There is the potential for the offshore activities to cause mortality to these species resulting in the decline in populations.”
Dr Agyekumhene says pipelines that would be laid from the offshore facilities to the Onshore Receiving Facilities (ORFs) have the potential to disturb nesting beaches and impact the breeding of sea turtles, leading to reduced recruitment and ultimately population decline.
The shorebirds feeding and roosting habitats may also be impacted, he adds.
In the vegetated areas where the ORFs are situated, the Marine Specialist says the destruction of habitats from the construction activities could impact mammals, avifauna, reptiles, and amphibians.
Six decades of oil exploration have made the Niger Delta one of the most polluted places on earth and damaged a lot, including farmlands, a recent story written by Arinze Chijioke for Aljazeera cautions.
Following the most recent oil spillage in Mauritius, the UNDP and International Organization for Migration’s impact assessment, found out that the spill directly affected approximately 48,000 Mauritians living in 17 coastal villages along the 30 km shoreline, according to a March 2021 publication by African Renewal.
Some experts warn that when unique species are destroyed, they are difficult or impossible to restore and the ecological integrity of their habitat will be compromised forever.
However, the PHDC says it is fully aware of its responsibility to man and nature as it executes this ambitious project. It is, therefore, working with the EPA to develop an Integrated Biodiversity Management Plan.
Its guiding principles include ensuring strict adherence to safety, sustainability, and reliable operations, it highlights to the GNA.
Dr Bob Alfa, Director, Planning Department, Water Resources Commission (WRC), tells the GNA that with projects of such magnitude, the potential impact on biodiversity can be high.
But countries, such as Norway, have to a large extent, managed to deal with oil exploration-related issues, though conservationists are particularly concerned about the long-term ecological damage to biodiversity.
The development of a SEA is a first step with projects of this nature, he says, but it is imperative to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to earmark the specific areas that could be impacted and how to mitigate issues that come up.
“Everything can be done to safely undertake the project and protect the biodiversity. The technology and best practices and regulatory agencies are there—and we only have to comply with the environmental guidelines. The challenge is, will we follow the guidelines?” he asks.
Dr Gerald Forkuor, Climate Change Lead, Feed the Future Ghana Policy LINK Activity, recommends that best practices of similar projects in other countries should be adopted to minimise biodiversity loss and other related impacts.
Already, wildlife populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish have declined to nearly 70 per cent on average since 1970, according to Living Planet Report 2022.
The report, therefore, urges governments, businesses, and the public to take transformative actions to reverse the destruction of biodiversity.
For Ekuba and her compatriots, their prayer is that this mega ground-breaking project, will be true to its commitment of ensuring strict adherence to safety, sustainability, and reliable operations to safeguard the wellbeing of man and nature.