1.1   Background of the Study

Crude oil originates from ancient fossilised materials having been converted into oil over millions of years through geochemical processes. It is found in the subsoil of the earth and oceans, and drilled in unrefined form, to be processed into petroleum products for use. Crude oil is useful for various industries, and its products are utilised for both domestic and industrial use. However, due to the very nature of the formation of crude oil, it is exploited from pressurised fields, and unregulated discharge or spillage of crude oil can have dire consequences for the environment into which it is spilled.

Ghana began commercial exploration for oil in the 1950’s with the establishment of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), but it was only in 2007 that oil was found in commercial quantities by Kosmos Energy and their partners, in an area offshore Ghana’s west Cape Three Points, dubbed the Jubilee Field, in Ghana’s geophysical Tano basin block. Initial exploration in the East Cape Three Points basin encountered non-commercial hydrocarbon shows (Tippee, 1999). Commercial exploitation of oil in Ghana began in December 2010.

In recent years, tremendous attention has been directed towards environmental deterioration by man’s activities which adversely affect the lives of plants and animals on land, water and air and even livelihood of people (OECD, 1976). One activity that has aroused considerable interest across the globe is crude oil exploration.  Crude oil exploration is one of such activity that can affect the environment negatively especially when accidents occur in operations resulting to spillage of oil. As a result of the impacts of crude oil operations to the environment, there have been actions in the activities of crude oil exploration across the globe to prevent the high risk of oil spillage and the accompanying environmental hazards (Ojakorotu and Gilbert, 2010). However, the exposure to risk has not been helped by the players in the oil industry who jostle for the ‘liquid gold’ thereby putting pressure on the oil producing communities and the surrounding environment. According to Egwu (2012), one of the factors that cause discharge of oil to the environmental is the unethical engineering operations practiced by the industries involved.

An example of the catastrophic impact of oil spill is the Exxon Valdez oil spill which occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989 with an estimated crude oil spill of 260,000 to 750,000 barrels and more recently the BP deep-water horizon oil spill on 20 April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. It caused an oil discharge for 87 days with an estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels, (Egwu, 2012). As a result of lessons learnt from these and other oil spills, the prevention, response and management of oil spills is being given top priority worldwide especially in oil producing countries in order to circumvent the economic and environmental hazards of an oil spill. To this end, several initiatives have come to the fore. One of such initiatives is to make and enforce laws and contingency plans for the prevention and control of oil spills. It is however curious that in most developing oil producing nations including Ghana, the management of oil spill to prevent and respond to unwanted oil discharge even after so many years of petroleum exploration and production activities have not seen a reduction in the number of spillage occurrence. This has caused the government to resolve to grossly inadequate measure of monetary compensation to the victims of oil spill rather than concerning itself with the more appropriate solution of prevention and management to safeguard the environment, society and economy from the menace that is an oil spill.

An oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially marine areas, due to human activity, and is a form of pollution. The term is usually applied to marine oil spills, where oil is released into the ocean or coastal waters, but spills may also occur on land. Oil spills may be due to releases of crude oil from tankers, offshore platforms, drilling rigs and wells, as well as spills of refined petroleum products (such as gasoline, diesel) and their by-products, heavier fuels used by large ships such as bunker fuel, or the spill of any oily refuse or waste oil.

Oil spills penetrate into the structure of the plumage of birds and the fur of mammals, reducing its insulating ability, and making them more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water. Cleanup and recovery from an oil spill is difficult and depends upon many factors, including the type of oil spilled, the temperature of the water (affecting evaporation and biodegradation), and the types of shorelines and beaches involved. Spills may take weeks, months or even years to clean up. Oil spills at sea are generally much more damaging than those on land, since they can spread for hundreds of nautical miles in a thin oil slick which can cover beaches with a thin coating of oil. This can kill sea birds, mammals, shellfish and other organisms it coats. Oil spills on land are more readily containable if a makeshift earth dam can be rapidly bulldozed around the spill site before most of the oil escapes, and land animals can avoid the oil more easily.

When we think of oil spills, we usually think of oil tankers spilling their cargo in oceans or seas. However, oil spilled on land often reaches lakes, rivers, and wetlands, where it can also cause damage. Oceans and other saltwater bodies are referred to as marine environments. Lakes, rivers, and other inland bodies of water are called freshwater environments. The term aquatic refers to both marine and freshwater environments.  When oil is spilled into an aquatic environment, it can harm organisms that live on or around the water surface and those that live under water. Spilled oil can also damage parts of the food chain, including human food resources.

The severity of the impact of an oil spill depends on a variety of factors, including characteristics of the oil itself. Natural conditions, such as water temperature and weather, also influence the behavior of oil in aquatic environments. Various types of habitats have differing sensitivities to oil spills as well. Oil penetrates into the structure of the plumage of birds and the fur of mammals, reducing its insulating ability, and making them more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water.

Animals that rely on scent to find their babies or mothers cannot due to the strong scent of the oil. This causes a baby to be rejected and abandoned, leaving the babies to starve and eventually die. Oil can impair a bird’s ability to fly, preventing it from foraging or escaping from predators. As they preen, birds may ingest the oil coating their feathers, irritating the digestive tract, altering liver function, and causing kidney damage. Together with their diminished foraging capacity, this can rapidly result in dehydration and metabolic imbalance. Some birds exposed to petroleum also experience changes in their hormonal balance, including changes in their luteinizing protein. The majority of birds affected by oil spills die from complications without human intervention. Some studies have suggested that less than one percent of oil-soaked birds survive, even after cleaning, although the survival rate can also exceed ninety percent, as in the case of the Treasure oil spill.

Heavily furred marine mammals exposed to oil spills are affected in similar ways. Oil coats the fur of sea otters and seals, reducing its insulating effect, and leading to fluctuations in body temperature and hypothermia. Oil can also blind an animal, leaving it defenceless. The ingestion of oil causes dehydration and impairs the digestive process. Animals can be poisoned, and may die from oil entering the lungs or liver.

There are three kinds of oil-consuming bacteria. Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria (SRB) and acid-producing bacteria are anaerobic, while general aerobic bacteria (GAB) are aerobic. These bacteria occur naturally and will act to remove oil from an ecosystem, and their biomass will tend to replace other populations in the food chain.

When there is an oil spill on water, spreading immediately takes place. The gaseous and liquid components evaporate. Some get dissolved in water and even oxidize, and yet some undergo bacterial changes and eventually sink to the bottom by gravitational action. The soil is then contaminated with a gross effect upon the terrestrial life. As the evaporation of the volatile lower molecular weight components affect aerial life, so the dissolution of the less volatile components with the resulting emulsified water, affects aquatic life (Akpofure et al, 2000).

The harmful effects of oil spill on the environment are many. Oil kills plants and animals in the estuarine zone. Oil settles on beaches and kills organisms that live there, It also settles on ocean floor and kills benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms such as crabs. Oil poisons algae, disrupts major food chains and decreases the yield of edible crustaceans. It also coats birds, impairing their flight or reducing the insulative property of their feathers, thus making the birds more vulnerable to cold. Oil endangers fish hatcheries in coastal waters and as well contaminates the flesh of commercially valuable fish.

According to Nwilo and Badejo (2005), the consequences of oil spill is far-reaching as it impacts negatively on the economy of a region, pollutes water thereby health of the local community, contaminates soils rendering it useless for farming and the reputation of the oil companies involved.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

Spillage of oil from exploration activities in the many parts of the world has lead to massive environmental degradation in the past decades. Such problems include contamination of water bodies, danger to aquatic life, destruction of flora and farmlands which includes resort centers, destruction of properties, loss of lives and many more. In addition, oil spillage impacts to the environment can lead to unwanted migration of people from the areas.

Oil refineries are major polluters, consuming large amounts of energy and water, producing large quantities of waste waters, releasing hazardous gases into atmosphere and generating solid waste that are difficult both to treat and to dispose of.  In term of the oil spill impact on ground water quality, it is seen in water contamination due to effluent, wash water and cooling water discharges, water contamination due to discharges water  effluents rich inorganic salts without appropriate treatment.

Oil spills are mainly caused by equipment failure, operational errors, and leaks from obsolete pipes or willful damage – (that is sabotage).  Many of the oil facilities and operations are located within sensitive habitats – including areas vital  to fish breeding, sea turtle nesting, mangroves and rainforests. These areas have been severely damaged, contributing to increased biodiversity loss, pollution of water and land resource, deforestation which has culminated in poverty, as a result of the loss of their livelihood. Due to many forms of oil-generated environmental pollution evident throughout different regions in Ghana, farming and fishing have yielded limited output compared to the pre- oil exploration years. Also drinking water sources are polluted, thus potable water have become very scarce.

1.3   Objectives of the Study

The study sought to know the environmental effect of oil spillage in Ghana. Specifically, the study sought to;

1.  examine the relationship between oil spillage and environmental effect of Ahanta West District.

2.  investigate the various causes of oil spill occurrences.

3.  examine the impacts of oil spillage in Ahanta West District.

4.  examine the remediation techniques in controlling oil spillage.

5.  Proffer recommendations that will help in controlling oil spillage in Ahanta West District.

1.4  Research Questions

1.  What is the relationship between oil spillage and environmental effect of Ahanta West District?

2.  What are the various causes of oil spill occurrences?

3.  What are the impacts of oil spillage in Ahanta West District?

4.  What are the remediation techniques in controlling oil spillage?

5.  What are the recommendations that will help in controlling oil spillage in Ahanta West District?

1.5       Research Hypothesis

Ho: There is no significant relationship between oil spillage and environmental effect of Ahanta West District

1.6       Significance of the Study

Oil spillage is a major source of marine pollution which impacts negatively on the environment when it occurs. This study will critically investigate and analyse the causes, impact and provide recommendations for the improvement of the oil spillage management in the Ahanta West District of Ghana, in order to reduce and where possible prevent the occurrence of oil spillages in the region.

This study will create the awareness for the government and GNPC to formulate policies to guide the oil exploration companies to follow in other to avoid pollution and to check the resulting pollution that will stern out from their activities.

The study findings will sensitize the indigenes, the oil marketing companies and the regulatory bodies on the setbacks and grant the premise to update and revise existing rules and regulations to foster the protection of marine life and environment as a whole. The study carefully examines the dangers it poses to the neighboring community, the aquatic life and the aesthetic beauty of the coastal areas.

This study will be of immense benefit to other researchers who intend to know more on this study and can also be used by non-researchers to build more on their research work. This study contributes to knowledge and could serve as a guide for other study.

1.7       Scope/Limitations of the Study

This study is on oil spillage and its environmental effects. It focuses on causes and impacts of Oil spillage in the Ahanta West District of the Western Region of Ghana and the remediation systems practiced in controlling oil spills in the area.

Limitations of study

Financial constraint: Insufficient fund tends to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature or information and in the process of data collection (internet, questionnaire and interview).

Time constraint: The researcher will simultaneously engage in this study with other academic work. This consequently will cut down on the time devoted for the research work.

1.8       Definition of Terms

Crude Oil: Crude oil is a naturally occurring, unrefined petroleum product composed of hydrocarbon deposits and other organic materials.

Oil Spillage: An oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially the marine ecosystem, due to human activity, and is a form of pollution. The term is usually given to marine oil spills, where oil is released into the ocean or coastal waters, but spills may also occur on land.

Environment: Environment is everything that is around us. It can be living or non-living things. It includes physical, chemical and other natural forces.

Environmental Effect: Environmental effects are harmful effects of human activity on the biophysical environment. Environmental protection is a practice of protecting the natural environment on individual, organizational or governmental levels, for the benefit of both the environment and humans.