Africa’s Atlantic Countries Prepare Environmental Standards for Offshore Oil, Gas Development

DAKAR, 17 Feb. – Specialists from a mix of disciplines and the Gulf of Guinea region began a three-day meeting Tuesday in Dakar, Senegal, to produce regional standards for the exploration and exploitation of offshore oil and gas in West, Central and Southern Africa.

This will be the second panel of experts meeting on the task, in response to a decision by the eleventh Conference of Parties to the Abidjan Convention, which met March 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa.The conference called on the Convention Secretariat to prepare a draft protocol on environmental standards for the development of oil and gas in Africa’s Eastern and South-Eastern Atlantic waters, and present it at the next Conference of Parties due in 2017. The draft will also cover the mining of other minerals along the area’s coast or on the seabed,especially as deep sea mining has now become a focus of global debate.

If accepted by the Conference of Parties the draft document would becomean additional protocol to the Abidjan Conventionand, for the first time in Africa, setregional environmental standards to regulate offshore oil and gas activities.

"The absence of legislation, and regional environmental norms and standards to regulate the offshore oil industry is a situation that we need to correct in the shortest possible time,” AbouBamba, executive secretary of the Abidjan Convention, said at the meeting.

The Abidjan Convention area comprises 22 countries, 17 of which are signatories to the document.

The initial move to curb pollution from offshore activities sprung from the ninth Conference of Parties held in Accra, Ghana, in 2010.

Efforts to secure regional standards have come amidst the recent rush in offshore oil exploration and exploitation along Africa’s Atlantic coast. The area contains vast known and potential deposits of oil. In 2013 Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea collectively sat on some 52.37 billion barrels (bbl) of proven crude reserves.A United States Geological Survey World Energy Assessment Team estimated in 2000 there were 71.5 bbl of undiscovered oil from Mauritania to Namibia.Nigeria and Angola are, by far, the largest producers and only Nigeria is among the world’s top 10 producers. All these countries are within the Gulf of Guineasection of the Abidjan Convention area.

All countries in the Abidjan Convention area are either exploring or have begun extracting oil offshore. Activity was spurred a few years ago by the mounting price for barrel of crude oil, which went well over USD 100 in 2014. Although in January 2015 the price slumped to around USD 45, there is still need to have in place regional regulations in case of oil spills.

“We dare not imagine, for a moment, the socioeconomic consequences in the Gulf of Guinea of an environmental disaster of the magnitude of Deep Water Horizon accident,” Bamba said.

To produce a draft protocol, this second panel of experts willreview the region’s present situation in oil and gas development;take an inventory of regulations relating to the exploration and exploitation ofoil and gas activities offshore; and examine current action plans in other ecoregions of the world.

Participants to this experts group on regional environmental standards include personnel from OSPAR, France and the United States.

The 30panel members are drawn from the private sector, civil society, the Abidjan Convention Secretariat. Collectively, they specialize in mining,the blue economy, environmental assessments,marine environmental law enforcement, tackling pollution, fishing issues, as well as marine and coastal biodiversity.

This initiative is funded by the Swedish International Development Coorporation Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Story from: Olu Sarr, Assistant Coordinator for Communications,Partnerships and Fundraising Division of Environmental Policy Implementation United Nations Environment Programme Abidjan Convention Secretariat Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire

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