This week’s spotlight on news that the construction phase of Ghana’s natural gas production project at Atuabo, in the Western Region, had neared 99.9% completion, came in the nick of time.
Concern had mounted that that we might miss the opportunity to capture this vital by-product of our crude-oil production, and needed addition to our energy mix. If the next phase of operationalizing the gas plant and its incorporation into the national electric grid proceeds as planned, then Ghana will have achieved a remarkable milestone towards energy independence.
The strategic national security, economic, and environmental impact of natural gas production cannot be emphasized enough. It will be, to use President John Dramani Mahama’s term, “a game changer”. With proven natural gas reserves of 800 billion cubic feet, which ranks Ghana at 69th in the world, the potential upside for the country is huge. The nation’s coffers are expected to save half a billion dollars in hard currency, while reliable energy sources potentially stimulates domestic industrial production.
As we have seen with current global hotspots, particularly in the Middle East, being an oil and gas producer confers enormous geopolitical power. The bitter fights over where to site natural gas pipelines attest to this fact, as does the incapacity of some countries to exert influence even as there are threats to their sovereignty, just because they are totally dependent on oil and gas imports.
However, as equally important as oil, gas, hydroelectric, and renewable energy production are, both manufacturers, institutional and individual consumers have a vital role in conserving energy. Conservation does more than reduce our fuel bills. It gives us the capacity to reduce the impact from the hazards of fossil fuels. Conservation also fosters transformative changes in people’s habits, especially the potential to wean ourselves from the 60% of our energy consumption that comes from burning wood fuels and charcoal.
The ecological dangers have been enormous: air pollution, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, soil salinity, depleted ground water tables, threats to endangered animal and plant species. Our continued survival on this land of ours depends on turning this ecological trend around. Climate change is not a remote academic subject, but a critical human security concern.
There’s more that Ghanaians can do to conserve energy and minimize our carbon footprint. Energy waste increases our fuel costs when we don’t do simple but effective things like turn off lights and airconditioning units in rooms not in use, purchase energy-conserving appliances, fuel-efficient vehicles instead of clunkers, and rewire homes, businesses, and factories to better balance electrical load.
We need not wait for government or some authority to tell us to do what is in our own vested interest: Survival!