A Ghanaian Perspective On:
Debate On West Africa Gas Pipeline
By Ivy Appiah
December 17, 2001
That the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) project is a venture capable of transforming the fortunes of the energy-starved sub-region is undoubted.
But questions bordering on the impact of the project on the environment and the people living close to route of the pipeline continue to incite varied passions.
The main concern of environmental groups and local communities in the countries involved is the absence of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Although, the Consortium working on the project say they have undertaken a comprehensive EIA of the 800 million dollar project, environmentalists maintain that local communities have been confined to the fringes.
The environmentalists also contend that the programme to construct the pipeline is so advanced that a new EIA is nearly meaningless.
Actual construction of the pipe is scheduled to start next year.
"Development is about the people, therefore, there cannot be development if the environment by which the people live and depend on is destroyed. The WAGP will affect the activities of fishing industries and the land," the programme co-ordinator of Friends of the Earth (FoE), Ghana Noble Wadzah said at regional consultative workshop on the West Africa Gas Pipeline Project.
Essentially, the workshop sought to discuss further the likely impact the project, which seeks to link Ghana, Togo and Benin to Nigeria's rich gas resources and how civil societies and communities could help ameliorate the negative effects.
"The WAGP project has so far been undertaken without input from local communities. Agreements have been negotiated and signed, contracts for the sale of gas has been sealed, yet there is no consultation with the local people who will be potentially affected," Wadzah claimed.
WAGP is a proposed 800-kilometer pipeline designed to transport gas from the Escravos oil and gas fields in Nigeria through Benin and Togo to Ghana.
The project consortium is led by Chevron, an international oil and gas company bashed in international cycles for its poor record in environmental management.
The other members of the consortium are Shell, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Sobegaz of Benin), Sotogaz of Togo and Ghana's Volta River Authority.
"The Consortium has failed on several on occasions to be present at seminars, workshops to answer questions concerning the WAGP. Typical examples are the March 2000 meeting on WAGP that was held with communities, researchers, journalists, environmental and social activists and the regional consultative workshop held recently on 22- 23 November 2001," Friends of the Earth charged.
Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) also accused the consortium of laying undue emphasis on the benefits of the project
The international organisation said the negative impact the gas pipeline could have on the environment and the people living along the coastline where the pipeline will be routed offsets any benefits the countries involved in the project expect to gain.
"In near and offshore areas used for bottom fishing, the pipelines would interfere with bottom trawling, resulting in loss of fishing equipment, as well as, accidental ruptures to pipelines," they explained.
Friends of the Earth also said the construction of the pipeline would result in temporary re-suspension of bottom sediment, adding that "the re-disposition of sediment would alter aquatic habitat characteristics and would lead to changes in the composition." "The upland pipelines installations would lead to erosion in the vicinity of the pipeline. In hilly areas, this would lead to instability in the soils and landslides. Runoff and sedimentation would lower water quality in rivers and streams during construction," FoEI insisted.
The construction of the pipeline is also likely to temporarily disrupt traffic. This is would be more pronounced if the pipeline crosses major transportation routes.
WAGP is to be installed offshore but close to shorelines. The FoEI said the closeness of the pipeline to the shoreline would result in the loss of benthic and bottom-feeding organisations due to trenching or turgidity associated with the laying of the pipeline.
They therefore appealed to the consortium to use Environmental Management Systems (EMS) in the operation and maintenance of WAGP to make it sustainable and serve the purpose for which it is meant for.
Oilwatch Africa Network co-coordinator and a member of Friends of the Earth-Nigeria, Isaac Asume Osuoka said Ghana, Benin, Togo and Nigeria are faced with similar problems, which includes generating cheaper sources of energy. "But this must not be at any cost to the sub-region's environment," Osuoka pointed out.
He said there are many other equally efficient and environmentally more friendly sources of energy like wind and solar that could be tapped. Osuoka also accused the consortium of refusing to answer questions posed to them "because they do not have the welfare of the people at heart."
"We should be careful of the world bodies what they want from this project. They see the project in economic and financial aspects but it should also be seen in moral, social and environmental impact on Nigeria," he suggested.
A participant, in an apparent reference to the running battles between local communities and oil companies in Nigeria's Niger Delta, said a person who buys a stolen gold is as guilty as the thief, therefore, if Ghana is demanding energy from a questionable source then the country is equally guilty as the source.
The participant warned that unless the proper thing is done, WAGP could
create conflict between the source (Nigeria) and the receivers of the gas
-Benin, Ghana and Togo.