Ghana’s petroleum laws need tightening – CEPIL

Accra, – The Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL), a right-based non-governmental organisation, has called for updating and tightening of Ghana’s environmental laws and regulations governing petroleum exploration and production to ensure environmental safety.

The Centre specifically asked that laws on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Water Pollution, Air Pollution and Gas Venting and Flaring to be updated to conform to global best practices.

It pointed out that gaps in regulations and laws on well plugging and abandonment, blowout prevention and decommissioning, and decommissioning fund ought to be filled and made effective.

Speaking to journalists in Accra, Mr Augustine Niber, the Executive Director of CEPIL, urged the Environmental Protection Agency and other sector agencies responsible for safety in the oil and gas sector to take the lead in ensuring that the laws and regulations met international best practices.

According to CEPIL, it had established that most of the laws, particularly on EIA, were narrow, not too detailed, not subject to public review or hearings, and not absolutely required for early-stage petroleum activities.

In the light of the environmental and social impacts associated with petroleum reconnaissance and exploration activities, particularly in the offshore environment, public participation and strict environmental review provisions must be incorporated into the process for awarding permits for these early-stage activities, it said.

It recommended that EIA regulations be amended to ensure all phases of petroleum development underwent rigorous scrutiny to identify and minimise environmental impacts.

Mr Niber said the EPA should develop a consistency of EIAs for petroleum development and ensure that the full range of impacts were properly evaluated and disclosed to decision-makers and the public.

The use of sector-specific EIA’s guidelines was common in many oil-producing countries, but concerning the water pollution regulation, CEPIL said there were only a few provisions in Ghana’s petroleum and environmental laws addressing disposal of large volume wastes from oil and gas activities.

The EPA Act 1994, merely directs the Ministry of Environment to make regulations relating to the type, quantity, conditions or concentration of substances that may be released into the environment.

The only provisions in the Petroleum and Exploration and Production Act, 2016, dealing with disposal of large volume wastes from oil and gas activities are also very general in nature, according to CEPIL, who also said none of the provisions imposed a zero-discharge restriction for oil and gas wells and the use of less-toxic aqueous drilling fluid.

It stated that it was important Ghana’s petroleum or environmental laws provided clear parameters for disposing produced water and other wastes.

Ghana should consider adopting effluent standards for onshore wells including following zero-discharge restriction and effluent standards for offshore wells that also include a numerical limit on the amount of oil and greases contained in produced water discharged from the wells.

On air pollution, Mr Niber said, the provisions that addresses air pollutant emissions from oil and gas activities in the Petroleum Law, Health, Safety and Environmental Regulations, 2017, did not impose limits on air pollutant emissions from wells other than minimal safeguards.

The safeguards are named as use of flare shield in certain topographic conditions and the reporting of amount of petroleum under emergency conditions.

He recommended adoption of emissions standards equivalent to those that apply to onshore petroleum exploration and development operations in consonance with international best practices.

He also recommends that decommissioning plans must consider infrastructure removal or reuse and address environmental restoration and long-term socioeconomic impacts to local communities.

There was the need to ensure that sufficient funds were available to fully implement and complete the decommissioning plans which, Mr Niber said already the Saltpond oil field was being decommissioned while the Jubilee Field would soon need decommissioning.

Source: Ghana News Agency