Friday, January 21, 2011
SETTING PRECEDENCE IN MANAGING FUTURE OIL SPILLAGE DISASTERS
In December 2009, Kosmos Energy was reported to have spilled about 600 barrels of low toxicity oil-based mud in its exploratory operations in the Jubilee Fields in Ghana. That was not all, between that time and May 2010, two other discharges of Low Toxicity Oil Based Mud (LTOBM) was said to have been discharged by Kosmos Energy into the marine waters of Ghana. With this kind of spillage at this early stage of commercial oil drilling in Ghana, I was dismayed as an environmentalist but was also that this was a good time for Ghana to get things right once and for all. I was convinced that the sad state in which gold mining has left most of our communities will propel the government of the day, into whose hands the managing of this country has been entrusted, to wake up and put things right in the oil sector.
A committee was set up by the Environment Minister to investigate the causes of the spillage and recommend punitive measure where necessary. I was very glad that such a bold step was being taken. This was no small committee as it had membership from the Ghana Maritime Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, and the Ghana Environmental Conventions Coordinating Authority. It was chaired by the deputy minister of Environment. After several meetings and consultations, the committee established that the unfortunate spillages were as a result of negligence on the part of Kosmos Energy and made recommendations on how to prevent and handle issues related to oil spillage in future. Accordingly, Kosmos Energy was fined an amount of 35 million dollars. I was glad when that news came up!
Then the actual story began: Kosmos Energy writes a strong-worded letter to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, copied to the president of Ghana in which they are said to have described the fine as “totally unlawful, unconstitutional, ultra vires and without basis” and ask the Attorney-General to use her “best offices and endeavours to halt a process that legally and procedurally is fatally flawed”. Well, I am not a lawyer and will not attempt to interpret the big words used here. However, one thing was clear, Kosmos Energy refuses to pay! And what did the government do? The government seemed clueless and helpless! Poor Ghana! A company operating in our Country has been found to have negligently caused harm to our marine resources and has been fine; and the country rubbishes the government’s decision to fine them. They do not defend themselves as saying they did no such thing but rather question the power of the Minister under our constitution or any other law of Ghana to impose a fine on any person in the event of an oil spillage. Isn’t this too interesting? How prepared are we as country in handling this oil thing? It is not enough to mine the oil, the effects of such an activity on our life should be paramount but we are bent on failing and nothing seems to stop us.
I had not giving up yet. I was still convinced that Ghana will set a good precedence. Then on December 20, 2010, I heard the news “KOSMOS ENERGY REACHES SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT WITH GHANAIAN GOVERNMENT AND GHANA NATIONAL PETROLEUM CORPORATION”. A part of the press release by Kosmos energy read “Separately, Kosmos and the Ministry of Science, Environment and Technology have agreed to a solution with respect to the “accidental mud discharges” offshore Ghana earlier this year whereby Kosmos would support the Ministry’s efforts to build capacity in the environmental sector. Folks, that was all. That was all! We have set precedence. Whether it is a good precedence or not is for all of us to think about.
Ghana, as a country is so blessed in several dimensions. Wherever one turns to, the signs of the blessings of God upon this country are evident. However, Ghanaians have over the years worked so hard to ridicule the God who has blessed us so abundantly by turning all that is provided for our good into despicable disasters. But through this all, we are always giving an undeserving second, or I think by now we have even reached the hundredth, chance to get it right. But we seem so bent on getting it wrong that nothing seems capable of stopping us.