Posts Tagged ‘oil’

Sigma-Base: Getting Ghanaians ready for oil industry jobs

Sigma-Base training center. Photo by Christiane Badgley

Sigma-Base Technical Services, a private job-training center in Takoradi, recently held a graduation ceremony (or a “passing-out ceremony” as it’s called here) for its first class of 913 trainees. The students, trained in welding, pipefitting, electrical work or specialized construction, were participants in a new program intended to create a qualified labor pool for Ghana’s new oil industry.

With the Sigma-Base training under their belts, the graduates can pursue jobs with any number of companies servicing the oil and gas sector.

“We are already qualified to perform 60% of the jobs in the oil industry,” says Ebow Haizel-Ferguson, the Corporate Affairs and Community Relations Director at Sigma-Base. He disputes claims from officials that Ghanaians will not be qualified for wide-scale oil and gas employment before 2020.

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Deepwater Horizon: Can it happen again?

Takoradi harbor. Photo by Christiane Badgley

I interviewed the Ghanaian EPA’s “focal person for oil and gas” Friday afternoon in Takoradi.

I asked him about the Deepwater Horizon disaster and what Ghanaian authorities believe necessary to reduce the chances of a similar event occurring here. I wanted to hear about policy directives and stepped-up enforcement of existing laws, for example.  Instead, I heard that the Deepwater Horizon accident was “unique” and that something like it “could never happen in Ghana.”

Between the cheerful confidence of the EPA official and the “we’ve got safety under control” assurances of speakers at the Ghana summit, you could be forgiven for thinking that things have dramatically changed in the last year. Things have changed, but unfortunately it appears that too much remains the same.

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The Ghana Summit 2011

Ghana Summit, Accra Conference Center. Photo by Christiane Badgley

The oil and gas industry trade show rolled into town this week. For three days conference delegates sat through strategy sessions, chatted with exhibitors and attended networking coffee sessions, lunches, gala cocktail parties and dinners. The halls of the Accra conference center were filled with exhibitors stands: from Tullow Oil, lead partner in Ghana’s Jubilee Field, to distributors of work boots and catering services, everyone wanting in on Ghana’s oil business was here.

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Deepwater Horizon, nearly one year on…

A brown pelican coated in heavy oil wallows in the Louisiana surf, June 2010. Photograph: Win Mcnamee

BP held its first annual shareholders’ meeting since the Deepwater Horizon disaster yesterday in London. The meeting was marked by protests outside and protest votes inside. Several people who had traveled to London from the Gulf of Mexico to share their stories with BP shareholders were prevented from entering and later arrested.

The protests got the meeting into the news and reminded people for a moment that the impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill is ongoing. BP claims it has learned its lessons and the Obama administration is issuing new drilling permits for the Gulf of Mexico. The oil industry has moved on, but what about the Gulf?

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Report card: Ghana oil gets a “C”

Mohammed Amin Adam delivers the first report card to Ghana's fledgling oil industry.

The report card is out and Ghana’s overall grade is a “C.”

The government (executive branch), the parliament, the donor partners, the oil and gas companies and civil society all received  average grades of “C” (fair). As Mohammed Amin Adam, National Coordinator of the Civil Society Platform, explained, the objectives of the readiness report and the accompanying report card are to acknowledge progress made to date  and to encourage renewed efforts moving forward. That’s why, according to Amin, the grading system was fairly easy.

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Report card time!

Ghana’s oil industry is getting its first term report card! The Civil Society Platfrom on OIl and Gas will hand out the grades Monday morning in Accra. The media is invited and I’ll be there to find out who has been a good student and who needs to show more effort.

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A great day for oil!

Deepwater Horizon site, two months after the explosion in 2010. Photo: Associated Press

Transocean, remember them?

Transocean Ltd. had its “best year in safety performance” despite the explosion of its Deepwater Horizon rig that left 11 dead and oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the world’s largest offshore-rig company said in a securities filing Friday.

Accordingly, Transocean’s executives received two-thirds of their target safety bonus. Safety accounts for 25% of the equation that determines the yearly cash bonuses, along with financial factors including new rig contracts

The payout contrasts with that for 2009, when the company withheld all executive bonuses after incurring four fatalities that year “to underscore the company’s commitment to safety.”

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Oil City: Where are the Jobs, pt. 2

"Oil City," attracting dreamers and schemers... Photo by Christiane Badgley

“Oil City,” Ghana’s new Wild West. There may not be many oil industry jobs here for the moment, but the fortune seekers, schemers and scammers have arrived and there’s snake oil for sale on every corner.

Here’s part of one email I recently received (I’ve removed names and numbers):

I was offered a vacancy by an engineer whom does recruiting for jubilee oil rig (tel +233-xxx-xxx-xxx  Mr. xxxxx) he told me to obtain visa etc we had to pay in 490 us dollars via western union and that he would get back to me he now is asking for a further 1699 us dollars for some documentation levy payable to Ghana Maritime labour law it is for the certification of employment and travel documents under GMA prior before delivery as a new employee joining the Ghana jubilee oil field.

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Union Man: Where are the jobs?

Francis Sallah, Regional Industrial Relations Officer, Ghana Trades Union Congress. Photo by Christiane Badgley

Nothing seems to capture the public imagination like oil. The real impact of the oil industry on local communities in Africa is in plain sight from Nigeria to Chad to Equatorial Guinea and beyond, but this hardly dampens public enthusiasm for the black gold.

In Ghana, things were no different.  When Ghanaians found out there was oil off their coast, a sense of excitement spread across the country. Optimistic and at times unrealistic statements from various company officials and ministries added to expectations. Continue reading . . .

Western Region: We will stand by our oil revenue petition

Awulae Annor Adjaye, President of the Western Nzema Traditional Council, told us in a recent interview that the Western Region will continue to press for a share of Ghana's oil revenues.

Ghana may have passed a Revenue Management Bill that has been largely praised (albeit with some caveats) both at home and abroad, but that does not mean that all the contentious issues have been resolved. The Western Regional leaders have no intention of abandoning their claim for a share of the country’s oil wealth and this is likely to be a major sticking point moving forward. Continue reading . . .

Takoradi: The BBC and me…


Takoradi, "Oil City", Ghana. Photo by Christiane Badgley

Driving around Takoradi we noticed BBC banners up at busy intersections and roundabouts. “Oil: a blessing or a curse?” the banners asked. Funny, isn’t it, how we keep asking this question, when time after time oil production follows the same cue cards.

A new country gears up to join the petroleum producers’ club and the president along with a few top ministers loudly proclaim that this time, here, oil will be a blessing and not a curse. Promises are made, speeches are broadcast and then the oil ends up being a curse – at least for those at the bottom rungs of society, the people who desperately need jobs and pin all their hopes on the elusive black gold.

Oil isn’t a blessing, but it doesn’t need to be a curse, either. Seems like we need to move beyond this supernatural, good v. evil framework that really doesn’t move anything forward. Continue reading . . .

Deepwater Horizon spill leads to new safety measures…in the U.K.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill - FSU Sampling Cruise - June 22, 2010. Photo courtesy Dr. Oscar Garcia / Florida State University.

I’ve been asking various officials in Ghana what they’re doing about regulation in light of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. I’m assured that the BP disaster is being studied. I hope to have an opportunity to ask similar questions to Tullow and other oil company executives sometime soon. In the meantime, I scan the trade press for news. Today, for instance, I found out that work is underway on a new well-capping device for the U.K.’s offshore industry. Continue reading . . .


Sewage dumping site, Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana. Photo by Christiane Badgley


That’s what this is and that’s all I could say when I saw it.

The “this” in question is the sewage of the Sekondi-Takoradi metropolitan area. Government trucks drive the stuff over here and dump it on to the beach just down the road from a fishing village.

Apparently kids in the village are getting all sorts of eye and ear infections and the fishmongers have to lie about where the fish comes from or no one will buy it. People say it smells like…shit. Continue reading . . .

Ghana dreaming…

“Ghana dreaming. That’s what you should call your story.” On a packed flight to Accra, I ended up by chance seated next to an American oil and gas professional who has been living in Ghana and working throughout the Gulf of Guinea for the past 15 years. We started chatting and I told him I was going to Ghana to report on the country’s new oil industry.

He wasn’t at all excited about Ghana’s entry into the petroleum club.  This man looks at the oil industry in terms of job prospects and for him Ghana’s Jubilee field is a bust.

As he explained to me, deepwater drilling is a highly specialized operation; the equipment and materials arrive from outside the country, are installed by specialized expat crews and then provide virtually no business for local maintenance companies or jobs for oil workers.

For this freelance operator the idea that Ghana’s oil industry is going to create a business boom is no more than a pipe dream. Continue reading . . .

Cameroon negotiating release of Bakassi hostages

It was important enough for President Biya to cut short his Swiss holiday, so here’s the reprint from AFP:

YAOUNDE — Cameroon authorities have opened negotiations for the release of 13 officials kidnapped in the disputed Bakassi peninsula, a source close to the security service said Wednesday.

The 13 officials, including the region’s sub-prefect, were taken hostage earlier this week in two attacks that also killed two police paramilitaries.

A government spokesman on Wednesday confirmed the number of kidnapped at 13. Earlier it was believed 11 people had been kidnapped. Continue reading . . .

African Democracy and Oil: A Combustible Mix

The consequences of oil politics. Photo by Elisa Valle Marcos

Oil and democracy: do they mix?

A few days ago in his FiveThirtyEight blog, Nate Silver considered Egypt, Oil and Democracy:

There is a large body of literature in political science connecting oil wealth and democratization. Although the conclusions are not universally accepted and there are some exceptions — Norway, for instance, is one of the most petroleum-rich countries in the world, and also one of the most democratic — the consensus view is toward what Thomas L. Friedman refers to as The First Law of Petropolitics: oil and democracy do not mix.

He then pointed to data from 21 Middle Eastern and North African countries, which showed an inverse relationship between democracy and resource wealth. In other words, the more oil a country has, the less likely it is to be democratic. Continue reading . . .

President of Equatorial Guinea new chairman of African Union

News flash: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is the new chairman of the African Union.

I’m reprinting a brief article from the Pan African news agency,  PANAPRESS. Referring to Tunisia and Egypt, the article’s author asserts that this unfortunate choice ignores the “deep aspirations” of the African peoples for liberty and human rights. Indeed.

Human rights body faults choice of Nguema as AU chairman

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) – An African rights body Sunday expressed indignation after Equatorial Guinea President Theodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo assumed the Chairmanship of the African Union (AU) at the 16th ordinary summit of the continental organisation.

The African Rally of the Defence of Human Rights, known by its acronym as RADDHO, claimed that the choice of Nguema Mbasogo “will seriously damage the image of the African continent and the debate planned by the AU on democratic values will lack credibility.”

Known internationally as a dictator, RADDHO said, UNESCO was obliged to reject the prize offered by Nguema to that organisation, mainly because of “the catastrophic human rights record of Equatorial Guinea”.

According to the rights body, Equatorial Guinea is notorious for its systematic torture of political opponents and violation of human rights, with the opposition completely muzzled. Also, it neither has independent media nor space for civil society organisations.

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Thinking about offshore drilling

This morning I read Investigation into BP Spill Reveals Incompetence, Greed, Complacency and Cynicism — It’s Time for a New Energy Policy, by Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.  The brief article discusses, Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, the final report from the Obama-appointed investigative commission. Although the report and its recommendations concern the U.S., it is easy to see the significance for Africa, where oil offshore drilling is on the rise.

I’ve recently posted information about the Scottish company, Bowleven, and its new oil finds off the coast of Cameroon. This is no small story: exploration over the past few months indicates that these discoveries are even more promising than initially thought. And Cameroon is not alone. There are new finds in Nigeria. Ghana is now pumping offshore oil. From Sierra Leone to Angola, the entire Gulf of Guinea region is poised for major, new offshore development. Africa, and in particular the Gulf of Guinea, is one of the new oil “hot spots” attracting both the major oil companies (American, European, Chinese and Brazilian) and the “minnows” or “wildcats,” the smaller, independent companies who used to “explore-discover-sell,” but are now getting in on the drilling action, too.  Spend a few minutes reading the trade papers and you’ll quickly get a sense that this is the new Wild West.

There’s money, and lots of it, to be made offshore. I remember reading once that the oil business in Equatorial Guinea worked well for the Americans. With all the activity offshore, work crews could be helicoptered in every few weeks.  No need to get too close to the abysmal situation on the ground in the country. Oil money fuels the corruption, repression, income inequality and political instability in the country, but the offshore drilling continues without a hitch.

So far, at least. What we hear little about are the environmental risks and dangerous lack of regulation, oversight and response capability that are unfortunately the norm for much of the offshore drilling in the Gulf of Guinea. As I mentioned in a post several weeks ago, I’m looking into the oil spill response plans of Cameroon and other countries in the region. I have yet to see anything reassuring.

More to follow.

2011: Oil will lead economic growth in Africa

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

For better or for worse…

It’s January 1st and it seems fitting to post this piece from the “beyond brics” blog at the Financial Times.

What slowdown? Oil to drive growth
December 17, 2010 10:42 am by Henry Mance

For the global economy, Christmas parties came early this year: stimulus spending boosted growth to possibly unsustainable rates. Next year, a mild hangover is likely to kick in – with slower growth in much of the world, including China, India and Brazil.

Yet, for those in need of some more festive cheer, there are three regions that are forecast to see faster growth in 2011: the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Russia and central Asia. All three will average at least 4.6 per cent growth, according to the IMF, overtaking Latin America as the world’s most dynamic regions after Developing Asia. Why are they accelerating? The common thread is oil.

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A few end-of-the-year thoughts

Oil's bounty: mosquito nets for all

Another year comes to an end, and along the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline not much has changed. Well there are new mosquito nets, but besides that you will be hard-pressed to find any positive developments for local populations.

The government of Chad continues to collect oil revenues, but apparently is unable to use them to benefit Chadians.  Of course the time for believing that the country’s oil wealth would be put to good use is long gone, but it would still be nice to be surprised. With both parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled in 2011, perhaps Deby will decide to put some of the country’s oil money (approximately US$ 5.7 billion earned from project start to July 2010) towards development.

More likely, however, Chad’s oil money will continue financing arms and the military. Deby increased military spending by an astonishing 663 percent between 2000 and 2009, made possible, of course, by oil. And with new Exxon drilling, as well as the Chinese oil projects in the country, there will be plenty of oil money for the foreseeable future.

In Cameroon no one expected the pipeline to bring much wealth to the country (pipeline earnings account for somewhere between 2 and 4% of the Cameroonian budget), and it is unlikely that anyone was waiting for oil money to be spent responsibly. But people hoped, and were assured by the project partners, that the pipeline would not make things worse. Unfortunately, for too many people living along the pipeline, life is harder today than it was before oil arrived.

But there is some encouraging news: the U.S. legislation passed this summer requiring S.E.C. registered extractive industries companies to disclose all payments to governments is an important step towards increased transparency. Transparency is not an end in itself, but is part of an equation that will hold governments accountable and increase the chances that resource revenues are spent wisely.  As I said, Chad has elections in 2011 and so does Cameroon (a presidential election in October). Neither Chad nor Cameroon are known for being democratic and there’s no reason to be overly optimistic. However, it’s an interesting moment in the history of “françafrique” and the ongoing electoral crisis in Ivory Coast may very well have implications throughout the region.

WikiLeaks cables: Shell’s grip on Nigerian state revealed

I am posting an article  from The Guardian. This news is a stark reminder that the “resource curse,” is not just a problem of bad governance and corrupt politicians.

Despite billions of dollars in oil revenue, 70% of people in Nigeria live below the poverty line. Photograph: George Osodi/AP

The oil giant Shell claimed it had inserted staff into all the main ministries of the Nigerian government, giving it access to politicians’ every move in the oil-rich Niger Delta, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable.

The company’s top executive in Nigeria told US diplomats that Shell had seconded employees to every relevant department and so knew “everything that was being done in those ministries”. She boasted that the Nigerian government had “forgotten” about the extent of Shell’s infiltration and was unaware of how much the company knew about its deliberations.

The cache of secret dispatches from Washington’s embassies in Africa also revealed that the Anglo-Dutch oil firm swapped intelligence with the US, in one case providing US diplomats with the names of Nigerian politicians it suspected of supporting militant activity, and requesting information from the US on whether the militants had acquired anti-aircraft missiles….

Campaigners tonight said the revelation about Shell in Nigeria demonstrated the tangled links between the oil firm and politicians in the country where, despite billions of dollars in oil revenue, 70% of people live below the poverty line.

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Deja vu all over again

Troubled Waters

In a few weeks Ghana’s first oil will ship and lately the news coming from Accra has been less than encouraging.  There’s been a lot of talk the past few years about making oil revenues work for the Ghanaian people (with references to avoiding Chad’s problems), but now that the country is moving from talk to action there’s cause for concern.

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Kribi: Major industrial developments on the horizon

Port of Kribi. Photo by Christiane Badgley

Take a nice look at Kribi’s quaint fishing port. It may be unrecognizable in a few years.

After many years of talks and delays, the Cameroonian government appears to be moving ahead with the Kribi deepwater port project, the first step of a major industrial development program.

A recent dispatch from Chinese state radio announced that the Cameroonian government will soon begin a US$50 million compensation program for residents on the site of the future port. According to the article, “The Kribi deep water port in southern Cameroon will be constructed on a 26,000 acres piece of land. It will have an industrial complex with four terminals as well as a mineral wharf for exporting iron. According to the construction timetable, the general excavation works are expected to begin in December.”

No details are provided on the nature of the compensation or the number of people who will be displaced by the project.

The port is not the only major development on the horizon.  Work is already underway on Kribi’s gas thermal power plant, which is expected to become operational sometime in late 2012.

Beach at Kribi. Photo by Christiane Badgley

Is there a connection between the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline and the proposed industrial development around Kribi? That depends how you define “connection.”

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CHAD: Flood victims contend with thugs, cholera and hippos

Residents of Walia use makeshift bridges to get around. Photo:Nancy Palus/IRIN

Below is an article from IRIN (UN).  The flooding in Chad and elsewhere in the region has been getting far too little coverage in the Western media.  Many areas in Chad and beyond are experiencing a level of rainfall and flooding that hasn’t been seen for 50 years.  Chad has suffered through several years of drought and although the rains may provide relief in some places, flooding is wreaking havoc in many parts of the country. Villages and farms have been destroyed; flooded fields are particularly worrisome in Chad where hunger is already a problem.

The tragic irony: All the oil money in the world can’t prevent torrential rain and flooding, and given the likelihood that the floods are related to global climate change, oil may be in part to blame for the situation. The question now, however, is whether the government of Chad has — or will — use its oil revenues to improve the country’s infrastructure.  Improved sanitation, roads and the construction of canals and dykes are critical moving forward.

WALIA, 17 November 2010 (IRIN) – Scores of families recently displaced by flooding in the Chadian capital N’djamena face a daily struggle against local thugs, wild animals, a lack of toilets and night winds that knock down makeshift tents.

The Chad government announced in late October that it would relocate thousands of people hit by flooding when the River Chari burst its banks, but any such move will take time; in the meantime families whose homes crumbled are just getting by – new hardships adding to what were already tough living conditions in their neighbourhood of Walia.

“We are exposed to too many dangers here,” said Obed Langkal, seated with other residents of the tents and makeshift shelters set up on a stretch of land between a main road and the river. “We cannot rest comfortably at all.”

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