What will it take for Ghana to investigate the surge in whale deaths?

more dead whales

Photo: Friends of the Nation

An unusual number of dead marine mammals have been washing ashore in Western Ghana since 2009. Friends of the Nation and other local groups have reported the beached whales to the government and the local EPA office. The government has not investigated and the cause of the deaths remains a mystery. Locals point out that dead whales started appearing in 2009, coinciding with offshore drilling. Many suspect a connection between the whale deaths and Ghana’s oil industry, but without any studies people can only speculate.

Two years ago I wrote about Ghana’s oil industry for the Center for Public Integrity and included information on whale deaths:

Dead whales

In Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana’s “Oil City,” activists from Friends of the Nation work with the communities closest to offshore drilling operations. In two years of monitoring on behalf of local residents, the group’s Kyei Yamoah, has noted an increase in whale deaths. “A whale washed ashore in October, bringing the total number of dead whales on our beaches since late 2009 to eight,” Yamoah said.

“After the death of the first whale, (the government) claimed they had taken samples to determine the cause, but they have never made their reports public,” Yamoah said. “Now we have seven more [dead whales].”

This past spring, the Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas, a group that includes industry experts, government officials and community activists, issued a “report card” on Ghana’s emerging oil business. Speakers at the report’s unveiling included Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, Ghana’s deputy energy minister, and Ishac Diwan, the World Bank’s Ghana country director.

The report commended the government’s transparency efforts and the passage of an oil revenue management plan, but gave the industry and government regulators a “D” grade on social and environmental issues. The report said pollution controls and environmental regulation of the offshore industry are still just legislative proposals.

Ghanaian transparency advocate Mohammed Amin Adam said the report was designed to draw attention to the potential danger the country faces.

The attention is needed, said Ghanaian government researcher Cephas Egbefome, because the environment and risks in offshore oil production seem to be non-issues for most politicians and the public.

In a country where a significant percentage of the population struggles just to get by, Egbefome said, it’s hard to muster much concern for an oil operation 60 km offshore that few can see.

Two weeks ago I posted a press release from Friends of the Nation. Nothing has changed since I wrote that story in late 2011. Dead whales continue to wash up on the Western region’s beaches. The EPA continues to tell local populations there is no link to the oil industry, but has no proof to back up its assertions. If the EPA has done any studies, they have not been made public.

The Friends of the  Nation is now circulating a petition calling on the government of Ghana to conduct a thorough investigation of the whale deaths. With so many Ghanaians dependent on fishing, this is an urgent matter. Please consider signing the petition. The people of Ghana and its coastal communities in particular need reliable information — their lives and livelihoods depend on it.

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