Oil and Gas Exploration and Production in the Gulf of Guinea: Can the New Gulf Be Green?

By Moreno, Carlos J. | Houston Journal of International Law, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Oil and Gas Exploration and Production in the Gulf of Guinea: Can the New Gulf Be Green?


Moreno, Carlos J., Houston Journal of International Law


  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. OFFSHORE E & P AND ITS ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS
III. OIL AND GAS IN THE GULF OF GUINEA
 IV. EXISTING LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR ENVIRONMENTAL
     PROTECTION DURING OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS
     ACTIVITIES AND THEIR APPLICABILITY TO THE GULF OF
     GUINEA
     A. Global Instruments
        1. 1972 London Dumping Convention
        2. 1973/1978 MARPOL Convention
        3. 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea
     B. National Laws
     C. The Regional Approach
  V. POSSIBLE CONTENTS OF A NEW REGIONAL PROTOCOL
     FOR OFFSHORE PETROLEUM ACTIVITIES
     A. Choosing the Right Blueprint
     B. Specific Recommendations
        1. Licensing and Environmental Impact
           Assessments
        2. Seismic Surveys
        3. Siting of Installations
        4. Safe and Fit for Purpose
        5. Contingency Planning
        6. Drilling Discharges
        7. Produced Water and Other Aqueous Discharges
        8. Garbage and Sewage
        9. Chemical Use
       10. Flaring
       11. Decommissioning
       12. Discharge Data Reporting
 VI. OBSTACLES TO DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION
     OF AN OFFSHORE PROTOCOL
VII. CONCLUSION

Much of the industrial world will find itself caught up in the competition of two great themes--energy and security, and energy and the environment. A far-reaching clash between anxieties about energy security and economic well-being on the one side, and fears about the environment on the other, seems all but inevitable. (1)

I. INTRODUCTION

Energy continues to be a key factor in the economic well-being of developed and developing countries. Developed countries have vast energy requirements that need to be fulfilled, while developing countries will continue to grow their energy demands as time goes by. (2) Oil continues to fulfill a large majority of these worldwide energy needs. (4) Estimates indicate that the world oil consumption in 2006 was 85,220 thousand barrels per day, an increase of 1.1% from 2006. (4) This growing demand, coupled with OPEC's production cuts, almost ensures that exploration for oil will continue to be strong. (5) A lot of this oil exploration is expected to be offshore in water over 1,000 feet in depth. (6) Some consultants have suggested that undiscovered deepwater reservoirs around the world may contain as much as 181 billion barrels. (7)

The continued demand for oil means that the discovery of offshore oil in a developing country usually brings an economic bonanza for that country. (8) Still, past experience shows that in many cases this oil boom has translated into an improved life for only a select few and can actually leave the impoverished majority in worse shape than before. (9)

In addition to the economic and governmental challenges that an oil boom brings to a developing country, there are also environmental risks that must be addressed. (10) Regions made up of developing countries often do not have the resources and governmental structures required to create and manage a legal framework for the prevention of environmental harm from offshore oil and gas exploration and production (E & P) activities. (11)

This particular scenario is currently unfolding in the Gulf of Guinea. (12) The countries of the Gulf of Guinea, an area in the West and Central Africa coast made up of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Sao Tome and Principe, Gabon, and Congo, are considered developing countries. (13) All of these countries are either currently producing offshore oil or are exploring for oil offshore. (14) However, the region currently lacks a comprehensive environmental protection plan to address offshore oil and gas exploration and production. (15) The aim of this paper is to suggest a regional framework for environmental protection during offshore E & P activities in the Gulf of Guinea. Part II of this paper discusses the benefits and challenges associated with offshore exploration and production, including the environmental risks.

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