Tuesday, July 15, 2014

One Little Step Into the World of Oil

Imagine this: A biochemical process forms hydrocarbons, in reserves that are proven or unproven, and in types that are sweet and light or heavy and sour. Then find out the commercial viability of such reserves and measure the output in barrels per day. Now imagine gas floating on oil. Someone tells you that the transformation of these resources into industrial and consumable products takes place through upstream, midstream or downstream activities.

The above makes little sense to some outside "the business," including many citizens in countries where oil, gas and minerals have recently been discovered. But the complex and nuanced issues surrounding the oil and gas sector—from the geology to exploration, extraction and, the most crucial stage of all, commercial development—become clearer with a little help.

The Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) offered to decode for us this complicated industry, and so I took my first little baby steps into the world of oil and gas. Joining 28 other journalists from Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania, I received instruction by five veteran journalists and a host of guest speakers from civil society and the industry. Organized by NRGI and hosted by the African Centre for Media Excellence, the training was engaging and offered a much-needed mentoring opportunity, which we lack in our newsrooms. Partly funded by STAR-Ghana, NRGI's program for strengthening media oversight of the extractive actors in Africa is run with local partners Penplusbytes in Ghana and Journalists' Environmental Association of Tanzania.

Like many Ugandans, on day one, I believed that oil companies were out to cheat us and that government had given away so much of its take in the hope of attracting investment in the sector that, as a result, we would not get a sausage from it.

But the course was about issues, not perceptions. Beyond the basics of the oil, gas and mining sectors, it taught me that good governance matters. Ghana, for instance, fast-tracked oil production, only to realize later that it lacked some of the essential laws and regulations that should have been in place to begin with. Uganda, on the other hand, is still dragging its feet on many issues, and the industry players are agitated because of the snail's pace toward production.

Both countries are on the path to becoming significant oil producers in the next 10 years, but Ghana is galloping ahead in terms of output. Meanwhile, Tanzania, with an estimated 46.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves that are expected to quadruple in the next few years, is already a hot spot on the world's energy map, courting major companies such as Norway's state-owned Statoil, Britain's BG and Ophir Energy, and USA's ExxonMobil. Players in Ghana and Uganda, by contrast, are relatively smaller and more likely to take risks.

As a journalist, how do I deal with such information, and how do I present it in my story? This is where the demanding training comes in.

A field trip to the Albertine Graben in western Uganda offered a critical look at oil's impact on communities, flavored with rib-cracking tales of how locals are spending millions of shillings paid to them as compensation—from marrying more women to being duped into buying second-hand cars at double the price. Yet others are tapping into this new opportunity and upgrading their skills, like farmers in Hoima who are supported byTraidlinks to raise the quality of their produce so that they can supply foodstuffs that meet the oil industry's catering standards.

The discoveries of oil in Uganda and Ghana and gas in Tanzania have raised questions about whether these countries can escape the "resource curse," where treasured resources breed despotism, conflict and corruption instead of development. Civil society actors have clamored for better laws to manage oil and gas revenues in these countries, and to improve oversight within the sector. The governments in Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania have each said they are working on it.

So how do I hold these governments accountable?

TEMA! That was the famous acronym we learned from George Lugalambi of NRGI, who said that natural resource decisions should be built on three good foundations: transparency, effective management, and accountability, or TEMA—which happens to be the name of a port town on the outskirts of Accra, where Ghana's oil refinery is located. The message was reinforced by Kwami Ahiabenu of Penplusbytes, who drummed the need to understand the economic and fiscal conditions relevant to each country. "How do you follow the money?" he asked.

So at the end of the 10 days, I had learned that I must do more than just demand a percentage of the royalties; I must also understand how revenue management and fiscal rules can benefit current and future generations. Most importantly, I need to help my readers take steps—little or big—to do the same. And now I'm equipped to do just that.

Barbara Among is a freelance journalist in Uganda. Her work frequently appears in The EastAfrican, among other news outlets.

To learn more about NRGI's course "Strengthening Media's Oversight of the Extractives Sector," or to read the experiences of other participants, please visit our course alumni page at

Friday, July 11, 2014

Train the youth in new technlogies to take advantage of oil and gas sector – Lecturer

A lecturer has called on the Government to help train young people in new technologies so they could use the acquired technological know-how to accelerate the pace of development.

Dr Stephen Kudom Donyinah, a Senior Lecturer, Department of Chemical/Petroleum Engineering, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Ghana, said the Government could invest in such new technologies by providing scholarships for young people to train abroad.

He said they could then come back and compete with foreign expatriates, working especially in the oil and gas sector, and take over from them in future.

Speaking on the topic: "Engineering and Technological Challenges of the Oil and Gas industry in Ghana," Dr Donyinah, who is also the College of Engineering Coordinator, Petroleum Engineering Programme, KNUST, said just as done in countries like Japan, government could also partner with training institutions in Ghana to help identify and select the right caliber of people to be trained for the purpose.

The Institute of ICT Journalism (Penplusbytes) held the Media and Civil Society forum in Accra as part of the ongoing "Empowering the Media to Play Active Watchdog Roles over Oil and Gas Revenue and Resources" project supported by STAR- Ghana.

The forum was on the theme: "Assessing Oil and Gas in Ghana Governance and Accountability Framework".

It brought together journalists and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) with the aim of increasing oil and gas information and knowledge exchange, leading to opportunities for national dialogue on key oil and gas revenue management issues.

It is also to ensure better understanding of relevant issues in the oil and gas industry for better advocacy, networking and partnership building.

Dr Donyinah said it was the responsibility of government to initiate the way of partnership with the private sector to invest in the young intelligent people and also help establish them in the various economies.

He emphasized the need to pull "our energies together to help build the oil and gas sector so it could help provide the necessary support for the economy".

Dr Donyinah also appealed to the National Service Secretariat to ensure that students who trained in oil and gas in the universities were posted to oil related companies for their national services so they could acquire hands-on experience that could prepare them for the sector.

Key speakers at the forum included Mr Victor Brobbey, Legal Researcher, Centre for Democratic Development -Ghana, who made a presentation on the topic; Transparency of the Revenue Act and Dr Steve Manteaw, Co-chairman, Ghana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, who spoke on "Assessing Oil and Gas in Ghana Governance and Accountability Framework: the Role of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiatives"

Major Daniel Abloh (Rtd), Chairman of the Public Interest and Accountability Committee, also spoke on the topic: "Implementation of Oil and Gas Transparency Framework-The Role of PIAC"


source : Ghana News Agency