Interview: Kwesi Botchwey
To what extent will the Ghana gas project impact the role of Atuabo in the local energy industry?
KWESI BOTCHWEY: Takoradi has become a hub in Ghana following the growth of the offshore oil and gas industry. Not only are Accra-headquartered oil and gas companies opening offices in Takoradi, but other industries have taken notice of its dynamism as well, with housing, real estate and hotels continuing to develop. The natural constraints of Takoradi mean that the development of Atuabo, 100 km to the west, opens the door for tremendous synergies between these two sites in the Western Region of Ghana. Once completed, the Atuabo Freeport will relieve congestion at the Takoradi Port and make this region a full-fledged transport hub. Furthermore, even before the development plans of the Ghana gas project were finalised, investors were securing tracts of land in anticipation of the project. So I have no doubts that we will see multiplier effects on the communities around Atuabo, similar to Takoradi.
In what ways will the Ghana gas project contribute to universal energy access?
BOTCHWEY: While some groups have claimed that natural gas projects never lead to energy access for underserved communities, it is important to remember that there are no ironclad laws in this business and no reason to assume that a natural gas project will not impact underserved communities. In the case of Ghana, stakeholders will continue to develop a combination of rural electrification projects and a wider national grid to better serve areas in the north of the country. However, the largest constraint today is power generation. Power generation is the first step, and the Ghana gas project is key to feeding the existing power plants.
What is the potential for a petrochemicals industry in the medium term?
BOTCHWEY: At its peak, the Atuabo plant will process 150m standard cu feet per day of gas. This capacity is sufficient for the power plant in Aboadze, and will improve reliability and cost while ensuring that plants no longer rely on expensive crude oil. In fact, the project will save us almost half a billion dollars in light crude purchases. Once newer finds, such as those at the Sankofa field, increase production of natural gas, we are intent on building a second train at the Atuabo plant to continue the expansion of generation capacity. Processing and delivering natural gas as a feedstock for power generation remains our primary focus, although feeding a petrochemicals industry is still part of the agenda in the medium and long term. While our organisation remains focused on mid-stream activity, the growth of our processing facility has implications for the petrochemicals industry further down the road.
What measures can be taken to protect the new gas pipelines and infrastructure?
BOTCHWEY: Our new gas pipelines are mostly buried, but nonetheless vulnerable to attack. Key to protecting this infrastructure is fostering good community relations. We have already recruited many employees from local communities. In time, we also intend to scale up surveillance through a combination of popular participation and technology, including helicopters.
How can contingency mechanisms in the design of the project obviate further gas reinjection?
BOTCHWEY: Ghana can no longer afford further gas reinjection. It is costly and potentially hazardous to the lifespan of wells. This is why it is important to mitigate the risk of unplanned downtime at the Atuabo processing plant through enhanced safety specifications and use of the best technology. Furthermore, complementary facilities are key in avoiding any bottlenecks, which is why we have aligned our gas project timeline with the schedules of private sector stakeholders for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) off-take facilities, warehousing and other infrastructure. At its peak, the plant will produce 500 tonnes of LPG a day, in addition to lean gas, pentane and condensates produced by the plant.
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