The truth behind oil find in Ghana - Sam Jonah
I have followed with keen interest the news of a commercial oil find in Ghana and the optimism that it has engendered in the country. There is a welcome buoyancy in the mood of many Ghanaians as they look forward to being an oil- producing country.
There are many people and institutions that deserve credit for the oil find — members of staff of the GNPC through to its present staff and of course to the public that patiently supported the difficult, protracted but unavoidable exploration effort. There is indeed enough credit to go round.
I cannot therefore help being disappointed that amidst all the celebrations, no mention is made of the pioneering role of Tsatsu Tsikata. When I compare the exciting prospects generated by the discovery with the state of affairs 20-odd years ago, I am reminded of the contrast between the situation of the mining sector before and after the implementation of the reforms of the mid-1980s.
I first joined the board of the Minerals Commission in September 1984. At that time, the mining sector was in a parlous state.
As a result of the work done by a few dedicated people under the leadership of Kofi Ansah, the sector was completely transformed in less than a decade. In the mining sector, we at least had the benefit of over 100 years of mining and considerable technical expertise.
The oil sector in the early 1980s did not enjoy any such stature.
I recall the scepticism with which prospects of Ghana finding oil in commercial quantities was greeted at the time. I remember in 1985, while on a trip to the U.S., asking a chief executive of one of the major oil companies why they were not showing interest in searching for oil in Ghana.
His response was that their geophysicists had told them that our geological structures were too tight and too badly faulted to host significant reservoirs.
Today, we know just how wrong those geophysicists were. One man who defied the prevailing scepticism of the time and, with a persistence bordering on stubbornness, led the efforts to get us where we are today, is Tsatsu Tsikata.
Indeed, when I shared with him, shortly after it was made, the observation by the chief executive of the oil major, Tsatsu’s response was: “Let’s all wait and see”.
Tsatsu led in the rethinking of petroleum sector policy. He led in crafting the petroleum (Exploration and Production) law that was the “investment code” for the oil sector. He led in drafting model exploration agreements including fiscal regime and Accounting Guide that is still state-of-the-art 20 years later.
He led in the development of a specific Petroleum Income Tax Law.
Beyond this intellectual and professional contribution Tsatsu emerged as a corporate leader — building GNPC itself from the ground up. His vision was sufficiently infectious to attract even hard-nosed oil men to work on Ghana’s potential, often with very little reward. However, it is in his identification, recruitment and promotion of local talent that Tsatsu truly excelled.
He was truly passionate about building the capacity of Ghanaian professionals in the sector. Companies and government’s that had dealings with GNPC were pressured into funding scholarships and providing or funding attachments for GNPC staff and even staff from related MDAs.
Tsatsu foresaw that this investment would in its own way be as valuable to Ghana as any oil find. And history has proved him right. Today, even before the first oil has flowed, Ghana has a solid cadre of industry professionals ready, given the opportunity, to lead us into the next phase of oil industry development. We have seasoned exploration geologists and geophysicists, drilling engineers, field development engineers.
We have specialised market and financial analysts and lawyers. In the late 1980s GNPC was already developing boat and helicopter services expertise for production operations. In the 1980s (20 years before the West African Gas Pipeline and before climate change became a global preoccupation), GNPC was training staff in the economics and management of natural gas.
Tsatsu was relentless, even obsessive, about the meticulous exploration of Ghana’s oil potential. He recognised that geological and geophysical data were essential preconditions for any serious effort to attract private capital into exploration efforts.
He thus focused GNPC’s meagre resources on an ambitious data project. GNPC scoured corporate and public archives around the world collecting geological and seismic materials, data and analysts from earlier exploration efforts.
GNPC then constructed the most complete database of seismic information about Ghana anywhere in the world. Then through a joint venture with the Norwegian state oil company, GNPC seismologists began to reprocess and re-analyse this data using new technology. Tsatsu did not stop with old data.
He worked with state oil companies from Canada (Petro-Canada International), Norway (Statoil) and Brazil (Petrobras) and Nigeria (NNPC’s seismic subsidiary) to acquire new data. Through these bilateral arrangements GNPC staff became familiar with modern technology such as “3-D” seismic surveys.
Eventually, Tsatsu persuaded these collaborators to support GNPC’s acquisition of the expensive computer technology to enable her Ghanaian explorationists to undertake much of this analysis in Ghana.
This in turn provided a platform for a massive upgrade of GNPC’s computer technology with positive impacts on all other sectors of its work and with distinct benefits for example for Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
It was the availability of this extensive database and the challenging analyses of old data by Ghanaian geophysicists working under Tsatsu that made Ghana such an attractive exploration destination in the mid-’80s despite earlier skepticism.
It was the ceaseless interpretation and re- interpretation of the GNPC’s growing geological and geophysical database inspired by and supervised by Tsatsu that identified many new prospects.
Tsatsu literally set the course of Ghana’s exploration drilling for an entire generation. Those who worked with him in the sector are in a better position than I to give further details.
But I saw enough to be able to say that his investment in institution building and in exploration have contributed immensely to the recent discoveries at Cape Three Points.
For the health of our nation, for the sake of posterity and the development of a culture that recognizes selfless and dedicated service, we must all acknowledge the immense contribution that Tsatsu made to the development of the petroleum sector.
It is not too late to do so.