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Opinions of Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Columnist: Asamoah, Joe

Natural Gas: The Transition Fuel with ....

Natural Gas: The Transition Fuel with Significant Value-Addition Prospects for Ghana

Dr. Joe Asamoah

For some time now, the World has been grappling with the adverse impacts of global climate change. Global climate change has two segments - global warming and global cooling. These adverse impacts of global climate change include the melting of the ice at the poles, unusually warm or cold weather patterns, rise in the level of water in the oceans and the concomitant risk of small islands being submerged. Some of the net effects of global climate change include drought, excessive rainfall, and occurrence of certain diseases in new geographical areas. There is heightened global concern to abate the burden of anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases, which are believed by scientists to cause global climate change. In the global quest to mitigate the adverse impacts of global climate change, it has been decided to decarbonise energy in the medium to long-term. The reason is that energy systems, production, supply and demand cause most of the adverse climate change-related impacts.

Decarbonisation of Energy

The decarbonisation of energy demands that new and renewable sources of energy or less carbon intensive energy carriers be used. Studies and research indicate that the key contributors to global climate change are fossil fuels, which release copious amounts of carbon dioxide. The latter is arguably the most abundant greenhouse gas and deemed to be responsible for most of the adverse impacts of global climate change. In view of this, environmentalists and advocates of renewable energy are unhappy about the huge financial resources that continue to be poured into the fossil fuel industry; relative to what goes into the development of new and renewable sources of energy.

Preference for Natural Gas

Considering the fact that numerous global energy systems and infrastructure are designed to use fossil fuels, it may not be easy for the world to wean itself off fossil fuels, particularly, coal and oil in the short to medium term. However, of all the fossil fuels, natural gas is the most environmentally benign. It is therefore not surprising that in the global trajectory of moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy, natural gas has been touted as the transition fuel. Natural gas has certain characteristics that make it the preferred fossil fuel. Some of these are:
Its high calorific value
Huge advantage of value-addition
Its relatively cleaner and environmentally sound status
The shorter lead times of natural gas power plants
The comparatively high efficiency of combined-cycle gas turbine power plants
The volumetric and cost advantage of transporting the gas as liquefied natural gas
The modular nature of natural gas plants and equipment
For a country like Ghana, the huge value-addition benefit offered by natural gas needs to be tapped to its advantage. Additionally, the national reconstruction and development agenda could be enhanced by the supply of relatively clean energy resources to certain geographical areas with the propensity for accelerated growth. One such dynamic is the spatial development initiative.

Spatial Development Initiatives

The excitement that characterised the pouring of first oil in Ghana was a harbinger of more exciting times for the country. More importantly, the decision by the Government to add value to the associated gas of the Jubilee field is both laudable and strategically important. However, Ghana needs to delineate specific geographical areas as growth and development nodes for spatial development initiatives (SDIs). The promotion of sustainable development, which is the ‘in-thing’ in contemporary times, could be fast tracked by the Government through the use of SDIs. The areas that have comparatively high incidences of poverty and unemployment could benefit from the concept of SDIs. The sheer hunger and the determination for improvement in such areas could serve as a catalyst for sustained growth.
The SDIs may be organised into local and industrial development zones (IDZs), as well as second tier types for operability and easy manipulation. In addition to the growth nodes that could provide anchor projects, it is prudent to establish a vibrant gas market. Before the latter is established, the market dynamics that affect the natural gas value chain need to be properly evaluated and prudently managed to avoid failure of the natural gas chain. For a start, the SDIs and IDZs may be situated on swathes of pipelines from Bonyere to the south eastern part of the country, and on the opposite side to link up with current the one leading from Escravos to Aboadzi – The West African Gas Pipeline.

Non-associated Gas

The discovery of non-associated gas in the Sankofa field gives one a measure of hope for the emerging natural gas industry. Why? The phenomenal growth of the State of Qatar, which has one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, has been made possible by the availability of about 900 tcf of non-associated gas reserves. These reserves have contributed significantly to make Qatar the global market leader for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Other countries that have put their natural gas to good use are Trinidad and Tobago, Russia and Iran. The importance of LNG is underpinned by the fact that it accounts for 30.5% of the global gas trade. What Ghana needs to do is to fast track the establishment of the gas infrastructure plan. It is hoped that more non-associated gas fields, beside Sankofa, may be found to make Ghana a gas-inspired blessing. Obviously, prudent management of the emerging gas industry is sine-qua non, if we are to optimize our gas utilization.

Electricity Generation and Development of a Petrochemical Industry

The quest for energy security demands that we have appropriate energy mix. However, our ability to grow the economy of the country hinges on the availability of reasonably-priced electricity, which powers most of our plants, equipment and gizmos; while improving our standard of living. We cannot develop properly if we do not ensure adequate supply of electricity in the country. Considering the fact that natural gas-fired power generation is advantageous, we should not flare our gas beyond what is required for safety reasons, and also for auto electricity generation on the existing FPSO – Kwame Nkrumah - and subsequent ones. While some of our commoditised resources have been exported in the past with little or no value-addition, we should not make the same mistake again. We need to find the financial resources to enable us to add significant value to our natural gas in preparation for the development of a vibrant petrochemical industry in the country.

Joe Asamoah, Ph.D, a consultant in energy, petroleum and environment may be reached at