Can a long-delayed natural gas plant transform a nation’s economy? Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama certainly hopes so, labelling a new facility even more important than the discovery of oil. The plant in Atuabo, outside a village on Ghana’s remote west coast, is finally due to open in December, producing a projected 500 megawatts of electricity. It will help save the treasury about US$ 500m every year in crude oil imports. In turn it is hoped that the facility will boost oil production to ease the power outages that are becoming increasingly common nationwide — both vital improvements as Ghana’s economy stutters.
“This plant, I believe, is even more important than oil because of its multiplier effect in terms of job creation and in terms of its importance to Ghana’s energy security,” Mahama said on a visit to the facility last week. “I feel more excited about this gas plant than I did with the production of (Ghana’s) first oil,” he told reporters, calling the towering facility a “game-changer”. Ghana – a rare stable democracy in turbulent West Africa and a major producer of gold and cocoa – needs help to restore its economy’s flagging fortunes. The country has lost some of its lustre among investors in recent months as dropping commodities prices and a stubborn 10.1% budget deficit have sent consumer prices and business costs soaring.
The local currency has plummeted against the dollar and things have become so serious that Mahama decided last month to turn to the International Monetary Fund for help, while also issuing a reported US$ 1bn in Eurobonds. The government’s money worries have had a knock-on effect on the oil sector, which before Mahama’s election in 2012 was hailed for its potentially transformative power. In particular, Ghana’s inability to process the natural gas that bubbles up along with its crude oil has frustrated Mahama’s efforts to arrest the economic slide.
Anglo-Irish firm Tullow, lead operator on the offshore Jubilee Field, for example, said they were unable to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day because there was no plant to handle the gas.