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Ivory Coast villagers disrupt gas pipeline work

By on December 23, 2009

A planned Ivory Coast gas pipeline meant to power turbines supplying electricity to a chunk of West Africa has met hot opposition from villagers who are disrupting work on it.

Ivory Coast has an estimated one trillion cubic metres of offshore gas reserves and has been producing since the mid-1990s. Residents of the coastal town of Jacqueville say they have yet to benefit from the riches flowing beneath their feet.

“For 20 years, oil has passed through the pipelines here,” said protestor Tekry Akadje, at a road block of two dozen demonstrators who chanted, some waving machettes. “If there have been any profits from it, we haven’t seen them.”

Three major gas power plants are fed by two pipelines from the block. Officials believe the planned third pipeline could bring enough gas to two power projects that between them would raise the country’s output by 260 megawatts.

Akadje said protestors would physically block any attempted work on the pipeline in his village. Officials say opposition to the $35 million project from locals has already delayed it — only 7km (4 miles) out of a proposed 72 km have so far been built of the pipeline, planned to be finished by May.

Ivory Coast, although a net exporter of oil, consumes all the gas it produces domestically in generating electricity, some of which it exports to neighbours Ghana, Mali and Burkina Faso.

The new line could be enough to quell Ivory Coast’s own power shortages, officials on the project say.

POWER SHORTAGES

Under the the shade of coconut palm trees in sweltering humidity, workers in blue overalls dug a deep, long ditch and welded extensions to a pipeline snaking through the white sand, as local fisherman and farmers peered at them curiously.

“Ivory Coast is facing major energy challenges,” said Stephane Koueby, supervisor of the pipeline project owned by Abidjan-based private gas company Foxtrot.

“This pipeline will enable us to increase our production capacity in natural gas and, of course, electricity.”

The pipeline would supply a planned 150 MW turbine for the Azito Project, a gas power plant currently producing 300 MW. It would also supply a plant run by the Electricity Production Company (CIPREL), a Bouygues group subsidiary, which plans to raise output to 320 MW from 210 megawatts.

Ivory Coast has been suffering power blackouts that have forced it to restrict supplies to its neighbours.

Koueby said Foxtrot currently produces 2.97 million cubic metres of gas a day, but that the new pipeline would increase that to 4.41 million cubic metres.

Many Ivorians living near the pipeline say that’s not enough.

“We have formed this blockade because we suffer here, we are hungry, our children have nothing — yet we carry on our backs all this wealth,” said Hedje Odette, a protestor in Jacqueville. “We want to know: who has spent our wealth?

Reuters.

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