The National Petroleum Authority (NPA) has revised the national sulphur specification for diesel imported into the country from maximum 500 parts per million (ppm) to 50 ppm or lower, effective January 2017.
According to the NPA, to attain the 50 ppm mark from the current 1000 ppm produced by the refinery would mean that the whole refinery would have to be re-configured which might need a capital cost of between US$200 million and US$300 million.
The revised figures represent another significant reduction in the national specification of sulphur in diesels which was pegged at 3000 ppm but reduced to 500 ppm by the NPA after deliberations with industry stakeholders on October 3, 2016.
Improving air quality
Addressing participants in a workshop on “Promoting Low Sulphur Fuels in West Africa,” the Deputy Minister of Petroleum, Mr Ben Dagadu, said the road map towards achieving a 50 ppm in the country by 2020 was an important factor in the government’s effort towards improving air quality and environment.
The two-day workshop, supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP), is meant to provide technical support for Ghana and other countries in the subregion to take steps to produce and import diesel that meets acceptable sulphur content.
“It will ensure the protection of public health through a reduction in the emission of black smoke, sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons and other green-house gases from vehicle exhaust tailpipes,” he stated.
The deputy minister observed that apart from the environmental and health benefits of a diesel with lower sulphur content, it would also help the country take advantage of the latest technological breakthrough in automobile diesel engines.
According to experts, when the fuel is burned, the sulphur is released into the atmosphere as sulphur dioxide and other compounds that are major contributors to respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and asthma.
The decision to review the country’s high sulphur content in diesel followed the release of the report of a study conducted in Ghana and seven other African countries by a SWISS non-governmental organisation, Public Eye, which revealed that the sulphur content of diesel products imported into the relevant countries are 150 times, and, in some cases 1,000 times more than the limits allowed in Europe.
Although the quality of the fuels imported into Ghana meets the country’s quality standards, the products are said to pose a great risk to the health of consumers and easily damage the engines of vehicles.
West Africa efforts
The Chief Executive of the NPA, Mr Moses Asaga, stated that the road map was part of efforts to assist ECOWAS member states to reduce the sulphur levels in their fuels to 50 ppm by 2020.
He said the authority had through concerted efforts over the years rolled out innovative strategies “aimed at improving upon the quality of standard of fuel to ensure that the fuel supplied at final dispensing outlets is of the right specification.”
The Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Mr Mahama Ayariga, expressed the view that if the health and environmental hazards that came with the emissions were not controlled, it could affect the country’s attainment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The Head of the ECOWAS Environmental Division, Mr Yao Bernard Koffi, acknowledged the challenges the subregion faced with producing and importing cleaner fuels due to the lack of fuel specifications to meet evolving improvements in engine technology that supported reduction in vehicle pollutant emissions.
He, therefore, made a case for harmonizing fuel standards, as well as emission standards, across the subregion. – graphic