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RECURRING GAS EXPLOSIONS IN GHANA:WAKING UP AND SMELLING THE COFFEE.

You would agree that prevention is better than curative measures. And a spark neglected burnt the house(Leo Tolstoy).

Ghana’s first Environmental policy enacted in 1995 was based on a broad vision founded on and directed by respect for all relevant principles and themes of environment and sustainable development. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency( EPA)  spearheading the process of a sound environment, the management process has been ineffective and enforcement of laws has become an illusory gain, hence not achieving the desired results.
Ghana has recorded eight major gas explosions in three years from 2014 to 2017 including the twin disaster at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle(June 3, 2015), the Nungua-Zongo gas explosion( July 18, 2014), Trade Fair Explosion on December 23, 2016, among others.  The authorities are working on their blindsides, therefore unable to apprehend potential environmental hazards ahead of time. Pressing problems that require urgent action today is the direct result of a lack of anticipation in the past, and often draw resources away from more important tasks.
The sad reality is that most of the gas explosions could have been prevented, provided the gas leak was detected in time.

There are instances where people have protested against sitting at a filling station but to no avail. In September 2016, Ashongman Estate residents in Accra protested against the construction of a filling station in the community. University of Professional studies demonstrated against the construction of a filling station near the university in May 2016.

However, the recent gas explosion that happened on Saturday, October 7, 2017, at Atomic Junction near Madina residents in Accra is what whet my appetite for this write-up.

I do not doubt the credibility of vice president DR.Mahamudu Bawumia, saying new government policies will solve explosions once and for all. But a real decision is measured by the fact that you have taken a new action. If there is no action, you haven’t truly decided(Tony Robbins).

There is a need to adopt realistic and implementable environmental policies and strategies to solve these problems as they re-occur. All said and done, I propose a holistic and integrated planning approach in solving the problem.

To begin with, a coherent and rigorous Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) for all new developmental projects should be carried out at the initial stage of a project. The EIA should not be a mere exercise. Mitigation and remediation measures should be given a top priority, and if a problem is envisaged, action or a contingency plan should be taken to offset the problem. This will save us from the embarrassment we have been going through.

The EPA should work in liaison with other bodies, including, but not limited to National Petroleum Authority(NPA), Energy Ministry, and Ghana Fire Service to protect the environment from a fire outbreak. Fire service officers should be available at all environmentally sensitive areas, rather than ensconced in their offices and waiting until there is a fire.

Additionally, an Effective Environmental Information System should be made available for easy public outreach. The environmental information system should be seen as a constitutional right that should not be denied. The EPA as the lead institution should recognize the right of every citizen to expose any potential and actual environmental hazards without fear.

Also, periodic environmental auditing to check companies operations is very crucial. Periodic environmental auditing should be carried out to check on existing practices and assessing the environmental effects of current activities. EPA should employ more workers in the field of the environment with knowledge about Environmental auditing and Environmental Impact Assessment to help in the process of achieving a sound environment. The audit team should visit facilities on regular basis to check their environmental credentials with much emphasis on compliance, issue,  health and safety auditing.  The audit team should be critical about tools and equipment in the facility such as emergency lighting and signs, fire alarm systems, escape hoods and mask, fire extinguishers, fire door closers, fireproof safes and storage, etc. The EPA is supposed to periodically report on the state of the environment which is very crucial. Unfortunately, EPA normally reports after a disaster. Let’s face reality and stop deluding ourselves.

Through the 19th and early 20th centuries, coal miners would bring canaries down to the tunnels with them as an early detection system against life-threatening gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide. The canary, normally a very songful bird, would stop and eventually die if not removed from these gases, signalling the miners to exit the mine quickly. So if early miners had an astute way of protecting themselves from the dangers of a gas explosion, how much more the contemporary era with technology at our doorsteps.
The use of gas and smoke detectors should be given more attention. These detectors are used to detect a gas leak or other emissions and can interface with a control system so a process can be automatically shut down. A gas detector such as Amprobe GSD600 and RIDGID 36163 Model Micro CD-100   can be used to check combustible gas systems. Amprobe GSD600  can detect methane in amounts ranging from 40ppm to 640ppm, and propane between 35 ppm and 580ppm. This will help detect leaks early before they become a problem. Most of the detectors are seen at the gas stations but whether is functioning or is just camouflage remains a big question since authorities do not often inspect those areas.

Moreover, stringent enforcement of laws. Punishment for environmental offenders is not punitive enough. So people are more concerned about enriching themselves and do not consider the repercussions they will cause to others. It is not uncommon to see filling stations sharing boundaries with some shops, residential apartments, and schools in Ghana. And we should be critical about activities that do not complement each other.

Furthermore, embracing GIS as an effective strategic tool to tackle gas leakages and possibilities of explosions. Given the current rate of gas explosions, it is essential that companies can accurately monitor environmental changes associated with operations. It’s time to realize the importance of geospatial data to minimize risks. The spatial component is however still underutilized in the oil and gas industry in Ghana. Facilities Management using 3D GIS with field layout helps accurate monitoring of associated environmental changes in near real-time for Health, Safety and Environment, and emergency response during leaks or explosions. It will also help in distribution and pipeline management through path analysis for the distribution network, network analysis for environment-friendly routes, pipeline monitoring for geo-hazards and leaks, tracking of inspections using remotely acquired data. Developing a database using GIS should be available to all stakeholders, specifically workers in the field on mobile devices. This will lead to better decision making during emergency response situations and improved public relations. pipelines need to be continually monitored to check for leaks and geo-hazards and to manage and track inspections.  Tracking device via Advent GIS should be planted at the various filling stations to ensure complete monitoring among workers and customers.

Finally, massive education and awareness creation to sensitize and conscientizing the people on gas usage. Emphasis should be on the adoption of environmentally friendly practices. Environmental educational programs and projects to promote a clear understanding of the relationship between economics, environment, and other societal upheavals is paramount. It is undeniable fact that most of the eco-catastrophes that occurred are a result of man’s negligence. Therefore, the individual level of consciousness is key to circumvent the identified challenges of the environment. It doesn’t matter where you are, whether, in your car, your home, school, or at the office, you might not be far from a source of combustible gas. Therefore, we should all come on board and take audacious steps to fight against behaviours that trigger gas explosions.

The environment is very sensitive, fragile and vulnerable to disasters. But it is our moral responsibility to prevent it from happening.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten(Tony Robbins).

Prince Ayerakwa

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