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Opinions of Monday, 11 October 2010

Columnist: RFI

Ghana’s Oil And Gas Exploration And The Issue Of Ballast Water

By Richster Nii Amarh Amarfio (Executive Secretary-Corporate Social Responsibility Movment-Csrm)

Amarfio_2001a@Yahoo.Co.Uk Or Richster@Revitalization.Org

It is estimated that an average of two million gallons of ballast water (foreign plankton) are released daily into the US waters. Ballast water may be the source of the largest volume of foreign organisms released daily into the American ecosystem (James T. Carlton, Endangered Species Update Vol. 12, 1995)

Ballast Water is defined as “heavy material that is carried in a ship to make it steadier in water”. By inference we can thus define it as water carried by ships to keep it balanced on water. In contemporary fishing the use of ballast water is of great importance for the safety of both crew and cargo. This is because in shipping, ballast water primarily consists water collected from the point of take off which contains sediments, stones and thousands of living species. The species carried in ballast water may be invasive and are particularly responsible for a number of very destructive incidences of marine biodiversity.

These invasive species are not indigenous and so could be described as alien, exotic species which implies that they are members of a population that enters an ecosystem other than their historic or native range. Such species have the potential of causing dire environmental consequence to the biota of the recipient environment with its concomitant socio-economic consequences. Most of them are opportunistic species.

Ghana as a country has laid so much emphasis on the oil and gas exploration but unfortunately the potential detrimental challenges associated with the oil find have not been adequately addressed. So far in the many workshops and conferences organized in respect of issues arising out of this oil find, there have been awfully low levels of attention given to a detailed diagnostic analysis of such challenges with a view to finding solutions to them. These workshops have largely dwelt on oil revenue management with little attention for the impact of this oil find on the environment and general livelihood.

It was through efforts of civil society organizations, led by ISODEC that saw the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Tullow Oil and the others developed, even though this requirement is very fundamental. Even with the EIA, some CSOs are still doubtful about the veracity of some information provided and the possibility of the proposed mitigation measures standing the test of time. There is the case of presentation in the said EIA historical data instead of a more progressive trend data, hence making forecasting and analysis of future impacts very difficult. We currently do not have a well developed and comprehensive baseline data although explorative activities have started and commercial exploitation is due soon making it difficult to assess impacts on biodiversity and livelihood.

Section 93 of Fisheries Act 625 of 2002, provides that every ? activity, other than fisheries, must be preceded with a Fisheries Impact Assessment (FIA) which must be presented through the Fisheries Commission. Till now oil exploration companies have not complied with this provision but claim to have presented an integrated EIA to include the FIA.

It is also worrying that up till this point Ghana has not been able to pool resources (both human and material) to develop a more comprehensive and reliable Strategic Impact Assessment (SIA) and only relies on the EIA developed by the oil explorative companies.

The absence of a well-defined baseline data raises a lot of questions as to what is being excluded and what is being tied into how the overall impact biodiversity would be periodically measured.

These facts reinforce my concern about the negligence in the fact that the very sensitive socio-economic and environmental issue of ballast water has not been mentioned anywhere or discussed comprehensively on any platform. The EIA did not mention it and its management has not been legislated, neither are we importing as the case has been, best practices from elsewhere.

The issue of ballast water, as discussed, comes with invasive species that can predate on native species and potentially eliminate complete portions of the indigenous food chain, thus causing a massive economic and environmental damage. The water so dislodged may have salinity that may not be friendly to the marine environment and its continuous discharge may impact negatively on the marine ecosystem.

The incidence of ballast water may have the following impact on biodiversity
? Addition of species
? Deleting species
? Changes in relative abundance of species
In some instances the introduction of foreign species has been known to impact negatively on commercial fisheries. Some recorded instances are:
? Six countries near the Black Sea were affected by the Atlantic Comb Jelly. It eliminated the zoo plankton in the Black Sea which has exhausted the regions anchovy fishery
? Shellfish in Tansmania have been wiped out by North Pacific sea stars
? Toxic red tides have closed clam and mussel farms in the fisheries
? It was estimated in 1998 that $44million in annual fisheries revenues in Oregon and Washington states were vulnerable to purple varnish clam and the green crab (science News June 13, 1998.P.373)

Ballast water also impacts the health of the people adversely since it can result in cholera transportation across the world. In 1991, the South American cholera epidemic was a result of bacterium discovered in oysters and fish in Mobile Bay, Alabama.

There is a correlation between an increase in ship traffic and the incidence of ballast water. It is indeed true that Ghana already receives ships and as a result the incidence of the dislodging of ballast water is no new phenomenon especially in Tema and Takoradi. However, Ghana, being a net importer of goods, has seen more ships come in loaded with goods thus leaving empty, hence collecting water as ballast, making Ghana a net exporter of ballast water. Due to the inadequate data and research effects of ballast water dislodged in Ghana has not properly documented and as such such effects have passed un-noticed.

Now that Ghana prepares to export hydro-carbons, and having explicitly stated as a policy position to be a net exporter of crude oil, there will be a very high incidence of receiving the ballast water, and the accompanying invasive species.

The silence of the major actors on the subject must be of great concern to all Ghanaians and questions must be raised about our preparedness to manage it. Failure to do so will have certain implications for the country i.e.
• Already our fishing industry is distressed and threatened and it is time we started restorative measures. In the absence of a baseline data, a comprehensive FIA for oil exploration must be properly interrogated and a roadmap for marine biodiveristy restoration and conservation developed.
• There is the need to develop marine sensitivity mapping and map out protected marine zones for Ghana
• The introduction of ballast water may mean an end to our fishing industry if preventive measures are not proactively developed

In order to mitigate the impact of ballast water on the country’s marine environment with the expected boost in the shipping industry it is important to consider some of these recommendations:
• There is an urgent need to consider international best practices and apply them to manage ballast water
• Oil explorative companies must be made to present a comprehensive and workable management plan for ballast water
• The need to legislate ballast water management is very imperative now and a polluter pay principle which will immediately place monitory value on the levels of pollution and have the polluting company pay to clean the pollutant and restore the marine biodiversity introduced
• There is the need to have an off-shore reservoir to collect ballast water for treatment before dislodging

In conclusion it is important to note that the discovery of the hydro-carbons is meant to improve the lives of Ghanaians, however the interest of Government, Development Partners and CSOs in revenue is alarmingly making the scale lopsided and the tilt heavily detrimental to the environment, safety and livelihood of the ordinary person. The policy silence on the issue of the ballast water needs to be broken immediately.