The Petroleum Commission (PC) has recorded 17,822 incursions within the safety zones of three oil and gas installations in three years, a situation it says threatens upstream oil and gas assets and the lives of the fishers.
The installations are the Jubilee, the Offshore Cape Three Points (OCTP) Sankofa and the Tweneboa, Enyenra and Ntomme (TEN) oilfields.
The PC said instead of declining, the number of incursions by canoe fishermen rose to 7,015 as of October last year, from 4,185 in 2016 and 6,622 in 2017.
This came to light during an engagement with members of the Western Regional House of Chiefs in Takoradi. The Manager in charge of Health, Safety and Environment at the PC, Mr C. K. James, named some of the canoes that notoriously flouted the rules as By God’s Grace, Yehowa Dzi Mikwelo, C. C. F. Psalm 23, Enso Nyame Ye, Greater to Grace and Ben Gee.
The fishermen usually tied their nets to the installations, a practice that could damage the multi-billion-dollar installations and impact oil production for months, Mr James pointed out, and warned the fishing community that it was an offence to enter the safety zone.
The fishermen, he said, also mustered courage to tie their canoes to the mooring chains of the three floating, production, storage and offloading (FPSO) platforms and other umbilical links with other smaller vessels.
The incursions usually result in fishing nets entangling the drilling equipment offshore, which halts activities and adds avoidable cost to oil and gas operations.
He explained that the safety zones were considered to be the most dangerous environment globally, which required that all safety rules be respected.
“The danger here is that the fishermen cook with naked fire, using coal-pot with lit charcoal and kerosene, within the immediate environment where oil and gas production is taking place,” he pointed out.
Section 77 of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act, 2016, (Act 919) states: “Every petroleum facility/installation and well shall be surrounded by a safety zone established by the commission, in consultation with relevant authorities.”
The establishment of the zones took into consideration views of stakeholders, such as the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA), the Fisheries Commission, the Marine Police Unit of the Ghana Police Service, the Ghana Navy, the fisher folk, among others.
Mr James explained that the FPSO cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, with a daily operational cost of about a million dollars, and that in the event of interruption, it cost the oil producers between $7,000 and $30,000 to engage the services of support vessels a day.
Aside from the implications of technical interruptions, there were also labour costs, as well as costs related to restarting the facility, he added.
Mr James presented pictures of incursions within the zone to the chiefs and explained that the safety zone in the country was an area extending 500 metres from any part of offshore facilities and installations, saying: “They are established to keep persons out of the immediate vicinity.”
The consequences for fishermen included impact on their incomes, food security and threat to marine life, loss of fishing gear, canoes, nets and pollution in the environment, he said.