Jubilee’s oil…Bonyere’s gas: what’s going on?

Bonyere, a sleepy town on the verge of major changes. Photo by Stephen Yeboah

Today I’m posting an article by Stephen Yeboah on the proposed Bonyere gas project. Yeboah, a Ghanaian development practitioner who focuses on the extractive industries, recently participated in a training program on oil and gas reporting funded by Revenue Watch Institute, Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Institute of ICT Journalism (Penplusbytes).

First some background:

The Jubilee oil development project includes plans to pipe the gas released by the drilling to shore where it will be processed to generate electricity and eventually lead to further industrial development.

The pipeline will stretch approximately 60 km from the oil field to the coast, arriving on shore near the town of Bonyere in the Jomoro district.

Getting Jubilee’s gas from the offshore field to land is important for several reasons. The Jubilee project developers made a commitment to avoid gas flaring. Some of the gas is needed for drilling operations – it is re-injected into the wells to keep pressure levels optimal for pumping oil. Most of the gas, however, has to be released and if there’s nowhere for it to go, it will be flared. Flaring is harmful for the environment and it’s a waste of a valuable resource.

In Ghana the gas from the Jubilee field is a potentially important source of both electricity and economic development. It is also a way for the country to increase its share of the revenues from oil development as the gas belongs entirely to Ghana. The oil companies have no ownership stake in the gas.

Ghana’s gas pipeline and processing plants are behind schedule and the causes of the delays are unclear. I spoke to Ishac Diwan, Ghana Country Director for the World Bank, about the status of the gas project. The World Bank is providing funding for the gas project and Bank officials do not understand why the project is stalling.

Stuart Wheaton, Ghana Development Manager for Tullow Oil, explained to me that some of the Jubilee gas can be stored in underground reservoirs. However, according to Wheaton, “we can’t put all the gas in the field forever. We can do it for a couple of years, then we might have to drill some more injection wells.” Drilling these relief wells, however, is expensive and will reduce Ghana’s gas income. For Wheaton, Ghana needs to act quickly to avoid costly new drilling. “Arguably,” he says, “it’s already too late.”

Yeboah’s article focuses on citizens’ grievances in Bonyere and the neighboring communities.  Although it is unlikely that community concerns are the main cause of the project delays, it does appear that the government still has some significant community relations issues to resolve.

Give us land for our future generations

by Stephen Yeboah

The people of Bonyere, a farming and fishing community next to Ghana’s Jubilee field and the proposed site for a multi-million dollar gas processing facility, say the project threatens to deprive future generations of access to land for farming and development.

Although generally supportive of the government’s plans to establish the plant for processing gas from the Jubilee field, locals say the project as it stands threatens their livelihoods. Despite agreed terms of compensation for affected persons, the local people say a buffer zone around the proposed plant is too large and will limit available land for farming and development.

“We are not enemies of the gas project,” said Hon. Joseph Nyamikeh, an assembly member in Bonyere, but insisted that the right thing be done.

The people of Bonyere have called on the government, the Ministry of Energy and GNPC to release a portion of the land proposed for the gas project. “The buffer zone is too large and this will limit the local people’s access to land for farming,” said S.T Awuah of the Concerned Citizens’ Association of Jomoro said. “Where are you going to site schools and other development projects as corporate social responsibility,” S.T Awuah asked, adding that, “the compensation shouldn’t be once, they should also get alternative livelihoods for the people.”

With an estimated cost of $1.2 billion, the Domunli gas processing facility is expected to produce 300 million cubic feet of gas per day and create as many as 5,000 jobs for Ghanaians. The gas will be used to feed a nearby combined cycle gas turbine to generate electricity. Additional gas will be piped from Bonyere to Efasso located 30km away where the Osagyefo Barge and Aboadze thermal plant will also utilize it to generate electricity.

Bonyere, population 12,000, is not the only affected community. The neighboring communities of Ndum-Suazo, Kabenla-Suazo, Egbazo, Takinta and Ahobre will also be affected. The Domunli project, which will cover 27.2 square kilometers will impact about 600 farmers in Bonyere alone, according to community leaders.

The local community leaders have criticized the government for not respecting the importance of free, prior and informed consent before setting foot on the land. According to locals, the government staring surveying without first informing the people of Bonyere of its intentions. “They (Government, Ministry of Energy and GNPC) came and just entered into the land to demarcate without telling us,” said S.T Awuah of the Concerned Citizen’s Association.

Though lands at Bonyere are stool lands, the community leaders say they are for individual families. Much of the land title ownership is unknown. The community leaders accuse the government of taking advantage of loopholes in land ownership to acquire the land without consulting the rightful owners. Bonyere is beset with chieftaincy disputes between the Adahonle and Mafre families. “GNPC is capitalizing on our chieftaincy disputes to acquire lands without our consent,” said community leader Peter Nweah.

Community leaders called on the government, the Ministry of Energy and the Western Regional House of Chiefs to find an immediate resolution of the land title issues. According to the local leaders, rightful ownership of the land must be determined for the gas project to have any chance of success.

Ian Gary, Senior Policy Manager for extractive industries at Oxfam America, has written extensively about the importance of free, prior and informed consent. In a recent op-ed piece written for the United States Institute of Peace, Gary explains that, “too often, 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.” He adds that projects that sideline the consent of local people often lead to confrontation and conflict, negating any potential benefits for the local communities.

The Bonyere Gas Project is registered with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to address and mitigate environmental and social impacts. Community leaders however accused EPA of not coming to the community to educate them on the impacts of this project. “The EPA has not even set foot in the community to educate us on possible impact of the project” said Peter Nweah. “The atmosphere is full of gases,” stated S.T Awuah of the Concerned Citizen Association – Jomoro adding that they don’t even see the EPA in Bonyere.

Clearly, the consultation process in Bonyere has not been completely successful. According to community leaders, the terms of compensation were agreed in a stakeholder consultation meeting between the Ministry of Energy, GNPC, VRA, Jomoro District Assembly, the chiefs, affected farmers, the Concerned Citizen Association – Jomoro and the police.  Despite this, community grievances persist, indicating that “informed consent” is still missing.

The people of Bonyere have suggested that the government’s name for the gas project, “Domunli” – the name of the local lagoon – is a subtle attempt to exclude them from the project. They feel the project should have been named after the community. Adding to the affront, the Domunli lagoon, which falls within the demarcated project zone, is a vital source of income for local fishermen.

The ongoing grievances of the people of Bonyere stand in sharp contradiction to the government’s claims that the bottlenecks impeding the acquisition of land have been resolved, paving the way for the project to commence.

The Ministry of Energy will not confirm or deny whether the government has completely taken over the land for the gas processing facility. Kodua Edjekumhene, Public Relations Officer for the Ministry of Energy, said only, “when the land is acquired the necessary compensation will be paid to the affected people.” He stated that the Ministry of Energy had consulted with the chiefs and the local people of the affected communities. “Adequate consultations with the communities have been done to sensitize them”, he said, stating that this was done through various road shows organized in the communities. He added that if there are concerns from other groups, the Ministry of Energy will investigate.

Reacting to the concerns of the local people about land for farming and for future development, Mr. Edjekumhene said that with the local content and participation law soon to be in place, a lot of the people will be trained and employed – presumably in the gas sector. “The economy of the area is changing, so a lot of the people will be given adequate training over there.”

With regards to the issue of the buffer zone, Mr. Edjekumhene stated categorically that looking at the nature of gas, the facility should be well separated from the community for safety reasons.

BY: Stephen Yeboah, back from Bonyere [email: stephenyeboah110@yahoo.com]


One Response to “Jubilee’s oil…Bonyere’s gas: what’s going on?”

  1. […] gas project with its multiple delays, bad communication on the ground in Bonyere and surprise relocation to Atuabo has certainly exacerbated the frustration in the Western Region. […]

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