Ghana’s application to extend its territorial waters could lead to an added oil bonanza. By Justice Lee Adoboe

Ghana could expect to rake in an extra eight billion barrels of petroleum reserves if it succeeds in getting its maritime boundaries extended.
Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Mike Allen Hammah, told a media briefing that its application for the extension had a good chance of success. “The prospects are high for Ghana’s request to be granted and we are working round the clock to have this done,” he stated.

The West African country, which started commercial oil production in December 2010 after oil was discovered in the Jubilee Field three years earlier, is among 50 countries globally that have sought expansion of their territorial waters. The others include Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Kenya. The Jubilee Field is estimated to contain three billion barrels of oil reserves.

Ghana seeks the extension of its continental shelf to about 15,000 square kilometers beyond 200 nautical miles, where preliminary studies had shown the potential for at least eight billion barrels of petroleum reserves.

Maritime boundary disputes have already erupted between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire as a result of oil. In March 2010, Ghana’s western neighbour appealed to the UN to delineate its offshore border with Ghana, a bid seen as controversial since Russia's Lukoil had discovered oil reserves there only days before.

In October, Ivoirian oil and gas authorities sought to revive the issue, which had gone dormant during the November 2010 presidential election dispute, when they warned petroleum companies working for Ghana to stop drilling in Côte d’Ivoire’s territorial waters.

“The state of Côte d’Ivoire, which has continually denounced these operations, again appeals for this [drilling] to end, because the resources being exploited are our exclusive property,” stated the letter, which was accompanied by a map indicating that some oil blocks being prospected for Ghana were within Côte d’Ivoire.

Before this intervention, Ghana’s boundary commission had been working with Côte d’Ivoire in its efforts to mark the limits of its maritime boundaries. Hammah said the commission’s work had enhanced the country’s smooth development of the oil and gas sector.

Oil and gas allocations along the Ghana-Cote d'Ivoire border

“With regards to the security of our oil resources, I wish to assure you that our oil field is safe and out of any controversy,” he said. But later in an interview, the minister said Ghana had been holding talks with Côte d’Ivoire within the framework of international law and the spirit of due diligence. Chief technical officer for lands at the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Ellis Paul Atiglah, also pointed out that the claim of eight billion barrels of oil reserves had come from the UN’s International Seabed Authority. He also said that the indications were that Ghana could be called earlier than expected to defend its application for the extension.

A chief geologist at the Ghana National Petroleum Company, Lawrence Apaalse, revealed in 2009 that $8 million had been budgeted for the preparation of the documents submitted to the UN.

Apaalse, who is also a national co-coordinator of the Ghana National Continental Shelf Delineation Project, said were it not for issues of overlapping boundaries that might arise from submissions made by neighboring countries, the success of Ghana's application would not be in doubt.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Mohammed Mumuni, has also indicated that Ghana had been working with Togo, Benin and Nigeria over maritime boundary delineation.