It’s been awhile…

Money makes the world go round...wall decor in Takoradi bar. Photo by Christiane Badgley

Days turn into weeks and I haven’t posted a thing. I guess I’ve got those oil blues…

Well, that and I have been editing video and preparing an article for publication. If all goes as planned, new material should be online in the next few days. I’ve also been to London to interview Stuart Wheaton, Ghana Development Manager for Tullow Oil, and Romain Chancerel, Project Manager for the Global Initiative for West and Central Africa (GIWACAF). GIWACAF is a public-private partnership working to develop and enhance oil spill response capacity in the Gulf of Guinea region.

I’ll be writing more about those interviews and what I learned soon, but if I had to sum it up, I would say if communities really understood what oil development was going to bring and what it was going to cost, they would probably vote to leave it in the ground. Neither one of the men I interviewed said anything particularly bad, it’s just that when oil development is proposed to poor communities, the potential benefits tend to get exaggerated, while the risks are minimized. It’s certainly true that the “leave it in the ground” movement doesn’t stand much of a chance with high global demand and few viable alternatives to fossil fuels, but it would be nice if local communities had better information and more of a voice in decisions about oil development.

In that vein, it was interesting to read Ian Gary’s recent article about the growing support for community consent rights. I’m posting a link to the article, but here’s an excerpt:

From Peru to Guatemala to Ghana, many investments designed to develop natural resources – such as oil and gold – are beset by protests and conflict. Too often, these projects suffer from an “original sin” – affected communities were not adequately consulted prior to the investment decision and had little say about how and whether these projects were developed. With the inevitable environmental and social impacts that come from large-scale projects such as mines, oil pipelines, dams, it’s no wonder that protests, grievances and conflict result. In some cases, such protests shut down operations for weeks, months or years at a time. In Peru, indigenous communities blockaded a river in the southern Peruvian Amazon and occupied oil facilities for weeks during the construction of the Camisea gas project. In Nigeria, Shell, Chevron and other companies have had to forego hundreds of thousands of barrels a day in production because of community protest and conflict.

The good news is that there is growing international support for free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from governments, international financial institutions, investors and the companies themselves. They recognize that it is not only a basic right for indigenous communities and a principle that should be respected for all affected communities, but it also makes bottom-line sense.

I think the FPIC movement as it stands now still leaves a lot of room for government, corporate and local elite manipulation of public opinion. There are many ways, subtle and not-so-subtle to influence community decisions, but this is the story of power the world over. Every bit of progress counts.

I’ll put up some information next about the Lom Pangar Dam project in Cameroon, a classic case of a project pushed forward by the government and the power companies, with support likely from the World Bank Group, despite major social and environmental risks, including flooding a 25 km section of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline.


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