Recently, when what was said to be a new oil discovery turned out to be leaked oil from an underground fuel tank in an abandoned petrol filling-station, not many cottoned on to the fact that an environmental disaster had struck people in the area surrounding that defunct petrol filling station - amidst the excitement the rumour generated across Ghana.
The contamination of the water-table in a hamlet relying on a hand-dug well for its drinking-water supply, is most unfortunate.
The story of the 'oil find' in the Nkwanta North hamlet of Jumbo in the Volta Region, which turned out to be leaking fuel from an underground tank in an abandoned petrol filling-station some distance away that had seeped into the underground water-table, illustrates perfectly the scale of a hardly-noticed problem confronting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana.
How many abandoned petrol filling-stations are there in the country that also have leaking underground fuel tanks, which are contaminating the underground water-table as we speak - and posing a long-term health risk to residents of the areas that surround where they are located, one wonders?
The question is: are the public officials who issue environmental permits for the construction of petrol filling-stations around the country, properly resourced to enable them monitor those businesses on a regular basis, and ensure that in the long-term they do not negatively impact the communities in which they are located, health-wise?
What lessons, if any will Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDA) in Ghana learn from the contamination of the water-table by a leaking fuel tank in an abandoned petrol filling-station not too far from the hamlet of Jumbo that suddenly became famous because it was erroneously believed that oil had been discovered there?
Henceforth would it not be prudent to require new petrol filling-stations in Ghana to use double-hulled underground fuel tanks - so that leakages can be contained in a closed-loop designed fuel tank? Ditto replace existing single-hulled underground fuel tanks with double-hulled ones within a specified time-frame?
It is totally unacceptable in this day and age that for-profit business entities can make vast profits from the communities they are a part of for years, and then suddenly up sticks when they are no longer commercially viable, and leave behind what are serious long-term health risks with such impunity.
The time has come for the trade association to which downstream oil companies that sell fuel and other refined petroleum products belong, to come together and collaborate with the EPA to ensure that their members act in a more environmentally responsible fashion than is presently the case.
To protect the underground water-table nationwide, the EPA must ensure that whenever petrol filling-stations are closed down in Ghana, those who own them are required by regulation to remove all underground fuel tanks.
It is said that health is wealth. The Ghanaian nation-state ought to be able to protect the health of all its citizens nationwide - which objective ought to take priority over the interests of private commercial entities in such cases.
Perhaps in view of the gravity of the long-term health risk they pose, it ought to be made a criminal offence to leave an underground fuel tank in situ, whenever a petrol filling-station is abandoned anywhere in Ghana. A word to the wise...
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