It has been ages since I’ve posted anything here (more on that below), but it seems that nothing much has changed — at least not for the fishing communities of Western Ghana. I first reported on conflicts between fishermen and Ghana’s new oil industry more than three years ago. Since then, oil exploration and drilling have increased, and the situation for fishermen has deteriorated. In the last few months three reporters have contacted me to talk about conflicts between fishing and oil.
It’s a gray and damp early morning in James Town. The lighthouse in the mist makes me think of northern California.
Fish and oil: What’s at stake?
Here in Ghana, oil is expected to account for about 5% of the GNP when production gets up to speed. The fishing industry also contributes nearly 5% to the GNP. The number of jobs for Ghanaians that the oil industry may create is still unknown, but there’s no mystery about fishing. Approximately one-fifth of Ghana’s population depends on fishing. That’s huge, but in the Western Region fishing communities have to accommodate the oil industry. The oil industry meanwhile doesn’t have to do anything for the fishermen. Continue reading . . .
A new oil spill was reported at the marine loading terminal offshore from Kribi at 1:45 am on April 22nd.
According to COTCO, the “minor spill” occurred during a violent storm. The transfer of oil from the loading terminal (FSO) to a waiting tanker was halted due to bad weather. High waves washed some “residual oil” from the deck of the waiting tanker. Again, according to COTCO, less than five barrels total were spilled and the oil was immediately cleaned up.
No oil has been reported on the coast, but fishermen did report seeing a sheen of oil offshore.
Several Cameroonian NGOs have released a statement deploring the lack of communication between COTCO and the local populations as well as the lack of any statement or information from the Cameroonian government. The Comité de Pilotage et de Suivi des Pipelines (CPSP), the Cameroonian authority responsible for the pipeline, has not made any public comments regarding the spill. With no information from the government and no journalists allowed near the marine loading terminal, it is extremely difficult to verify COTCO’s information.
In November 2009 the Cameroonian government adopted a national oil spill response plan. This plan, required by the World Bank, should have been in place before oil began to flow along the pipeline in October 2003. The Cameroonian government has not made the plan public and many civil society activists believe the plan remains non-operational. Samuel Nguiffo, from the Center for the Environment and Development, points to the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as a warning: “It is urgent that the government increase its capacity to respond to a disaster and make the oil spill response plan operational.”
In the event of a major spill, several million barrels of oil could end up in the Atlantic ocean 12 km. off the coast of Kribi, Cameroon’s main tourist destination and an important fishing and sea turtle nesting zone. The thought of a spill anywhere is terrifying, but watching what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico now makes me extremely uneasy about Cameroon. Of course the situation in the Gulf is particular, but one clearly sees that controlling an oil spill, even with the best equipment and ample manpower, is incredibly difficult. Any significant spill at the marine loading terminal in Kribi would likely be an ecological (and economic) disaster of major proportions.
It’s important to remember that the offshore marine loading terminal at Kribi (the FSO), is a single-hulled refurbished tanker. Today all tankers, including those used as FSOs, must be double-hulled — an additional protection against spills.
The World Bank-supported Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline looks a lot different on the ground than it does from offices in Washington, D.C. Is the project a success? Depends who you ask!
One thing is certain: the controversy surrounding the “model” oil development project has hardly died down.
This video looks at ongoing compensation problems around Kribi, Cameroon. The Cameroonian Oil Transportation Company, COTCO (ExxonMobil), is responsible for compensating locals for lost lands and revenues.
Traveling from the fishing village of Bumé where locals have been suffering since pipeline construction crews destroyed their fishing grounds, to the Bagyeli pygmy villages in the rainforest, where the Bank-mandated, “Indigenous Peoples’ Plan”, has been stalled for years, I met one angry resident after another.
Today people are especially frustrated as they feel they have no recourse. The government is unresponsive; COTCO (ExxonMobil) is unresponsive. There’s nowhere for people to go with their complaints. It seems the world has forgotten about the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline.
This is an angry man. He’s standing in a 4 million CFCA (US$ 9000) fish pond. Well, it was supposed to be a fish pond.
When the last section of the pipeline was laid from the beach at Kribi to the offshore marine loading terminal, construction crews blasted away the reef at Bumé, the fishing village at “ground zero.” The fish left the area and for the population of Bumé, entirely dependent on fishing, this was a disaster.
The original pipeline plans did not include the reef’s destruction, so there was no mitigation plan in place when the crews came through. After much discussion, the consortium offered to construct two ponds for fish farming. Never mind that the villagers of Bumé are fisherman, not fish farmers, and that they have neither the skills nor the resources for aquaculture. These artisanal fishermen paddle out with their nets out once or twice a day, catching relatively small amounts of fish in the shallow waters. This is subsistence fishing: they bring in just enough to eat and, if all goes well, sell a few fish each day.