Natural gas started flowing from Ghana’s offshore Jubilee Fields to a US$1 billion gas processing plant on Monday in an important step that will supply gas to thermal plants that have been starved of gas from the West Africa Gas Project in Nigeria and stabilise electricity production.
When in full production, the Atuabo Gas Processing Plant is expected to save the nation over US$500 million a year from importing light crude to power thermal plants, as gas costs barely half the price of light crude oil, officials said.
The flow of gas to the processing plant went ahead despite a last minute letter written by the Energy Commission to Ghana National Gas Company stopping the firm from receiving gas because it was “risky” to do so.
Ghana has pushed for the plant to use gas from its oilfields in the west of the country to produce electricity that is in critical supply because of irregular supply of gas from Nigeria, high cost of crude oil, scheduled maintenance of thermal plants and low levels of water in the country’s three hydro dams.
The state-owned Graphic newspaper reported on Tuesday that the process began with the flow of 16 million standard cubic feet (scf) of gas for pre-commissioning and commissioning.
The Energy Commission asked Ghana Gas to furnish it with key information, cautioning that until that was done and an independent technical adviser had given the green light for the plant to receive gas, the company would not be permitted to introduce hydrocarbons into any section of the plant.
An audit group, The Wood Group, also cautioned against the commissioning of the plant with live gas, saying it was not the normal practice, given the time the plant had been sitting idle.
The Graphic said the gas flow began with the introduction of a low volume for the pigging process to clear the pipeline for the final flow of 16-million scf to the plant for pre-commissioning and commissioning.
Pipeline pigs are devices that are inserted into and travel throughout the length of a pipeline driven by a product flow or gas.
Pigs are originally developed to remove deposits which could obstruct or retard the flow of gas through a pipeline.
Electricity supply is a huge political issue in Ghana and the current stiff load-shedding has been making the government unpopular.
Officials say it will take four months for the plant to operate at full capacity to process above 120 million standard cubic feet of gas per day.
This is because intake of raw gas from the Jubilee field would be done in a gradual process, starting from 30 million standard cubic feet per day for the first month, 60 million standard cubic feet for the second month, 90 million standard cubic feet for the third month, and finally 120 million standard cubic feet for the fourth month.
The processing plant can process all the 150 million standard cubic feet of gas per day capacity of the Jubilee field partners, the companies producing oil offshore the west of the country.
Currently, the state-owned Volta River Authority (VRA) generates 75% of the power consumed in the country and 56% of that generation comes from non-hydro sources at a cost of US$3 million a day.
Ghana Gas would also produce 180,000 tonnes of LPG a year, which represents 75% of Ghana’s 240,000 tonnes of LPG consumed annually.
Besides the US$500 million savings in cost of generation to the VRA and the country, there is an additional US$500 million savings in forex that would have otherwise gone out of the country for the importation of the reduced light crude.
That money would be paid to a Ghanaian company, retaining the amount in the economy, leading to a US$1 billion savings for Ghana on lean gas alone, Ghana Gas officials said.