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.

In Ghana, as elsewhere, the prospect of oil money got lots of people excited. But just how much money will Ghana and Ghanaians get out of this oil and, more importantly, will life change for the better? The government is now debating how to spend the oil revenues and many questions remain unanswered.  But if Ghana’s oil is going to lead to real economic growth, it needs to create jobs.  And with the Jubilee field operation producing oil uniquely for export – at least for now — job creation will be limited.

Yesterday I attended a workshop on the oil and gas sector, hosted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The TUC is developing a policy paper on this new industry and the focus yesterday was on labor and workers’ rights.  Apparently, the most reliable estimates place total job creation between now and 2020 at less than 1000.

And those jobs will not all go to Ghanaians. Indeed , “indigenizing” the sector will be a challenge as many of these positions will be highly specialized. But Ghanaians are rising to the occasion with more than 3000 people on waiting lists for training courses.

This brought up another issue: unrealistic expectations. According to one of the speakers at the workshop, the Ministry of Energy announced at one point that the oil and gas sector would create more than 10,000 jobs, a wildly exaggerated figure.  There is some concern now that if the expectations aren’t tempered, if there are no jobs for those who go through training, Ghana could find itself facing social unrest.

Understandably the money is getting most of the attention now, but while I’m here, I’m going to spend some time looking at the environmental side of the story.  After the BP disaster, it’s hard to talk about deepwater drilling without evoking oil spill risk. I want to know what’s being done in Ghana to reduce the risks of an accident? And how well equipped is the country to deal with a spill?  I’ll explore these questions in the coming weeks.

More soon…

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