War of words over West African Gas Pipeline
The debate over the West African Gas Pipeline Project (WAGP) has assumed ideological dimensions, with Environmentalists and government officials pointing fingers at each other.
Spearheading the debate against the WAGP are the Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) and the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) in Nigeria, Non Governmental Environmental Organisations with government officials on the other side.
Apparently the sponsors of the WAGP have been surreptitious, refusing to inform and consult with the communities that will bear the impacts of the project. Opponents of the project said even requests for information from civil society organisations working on environmental and development have not been treated with the seriousness they deserve.
These among others have sparked the bone of contention between the Non Governmental Environmental Organisations and the countries involve in the project.
The WAGP is a 12-30 inch 500-mile (800km) onshore and offshore pipeline meant to transport natural gas from Nigeria to Benin, Togo and Ghana.
Leading the implementation process is the WAGP consortium comprising Chevron, Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation. The rest are the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria ltd. (SPDC), Societe Beninoise de Gaz S.A. (SOBEGAZ) and Societe Togolaise de GAZ (SOTOGAZ).
The $400 million project scheduled to take off in 2003 has not yet started.
The FOEI, Ghana last week held a consultation meeting on the potential environmental impacts of the project with civil servants, journalists and ministries. There was no representative for the GNPC, the ministries and Chevron, managers of the project.
Enquiries indicate that after the change of government in the country the implementation of the project was shifted from the GNPC to the Volta River Authority (VRA).
The FOEI argued that the WAGP is not environmentally friendly as perceived by the originators.
While the FOEI argues that the siting, construction, operation and maintenance of gas pipeline and associated systems can pose several risks to the environment; official records said the project is designed to reduce new environmental impacts from onshore pipeline construction.
FOEI contends that there is no Environmental Impact Assessment on the project and the local communities stand the risk of suffering.
FOEI said the WAGP would affect marine offshore as well as freshwater resources would be affected by the upland gas pipelines, governments insists that existing gas processing facilities would only require modification and no new onshore facility construction or operational impacts would occur.
However, official accounts say the WAGP would offer the people and communities of the four countries immense opportunities for sustainable development through capacity building, regional economic growth and environmental protection.
Officials insist that the project will boost industrialization, promote regional trade and integration and lead to sustainable development. The Programme Manager of ERA for Energy and Mining, Mr. Isaac A. Osuoka told The Accra Mail that there are lots of alternatives that governments could consider which are conducive and would meet the needs of the impoverish communities.
"There is no guarantee that even if there is gas from Nigeria to Ghana that it would be affordable to all. Our countries have the responsibilities to consider other options like solar and wind which could be developed."
Mr. Osuoka insists that it is very important that environmental, sustainability and human rights issues that have been raised are adequately addressed.
The mere availability of gas he explained does not translate to the availability of electricity for the people except these issues are addressed.
He alleged that the main partners of the project have refused to honor invitations for public debate because there is no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).