Contrary to assertions by government that the Tema Oil Refinery’s (TOR) debts have been paid out of levies instituted in 2003 to clear the refinery of all its debts, The Finder’s investigations indicate that the refinery has over Ghc400 million outstanding debt sitting in its books.
The amount is made up of loans for the construction of tanks and an outstanding amount owed GCB Bank, some trade supplies, the Volta River Authority, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
The debts, which are in dollars, have also increased as a result of foreign exchange losses due to the depreciation of the cedi and interests that have accrued on the amount over the years.
As at the time the TOR recovery levy was introduced in 2003, the company owed Ghc1.4 billion, but how much was actually collected and what the amount was used for continue to be a mystery.
The Finder also gathered that TOR currently owes other banks such as UT Bank, Access Bank, Ecobank, and GT Bank.
For example, information gathered indicates that TOR took a 120-day $60 million facility from Access Bank to purchase crude after it resumed operations recently but has only been able to pay $30 million out of the amount, even though the time for full payment has elapsed.
Efforts by civil society groups and many well-meaning Ghanaians to have government account for the monies collected as TOR recovery levy have not yielded any result.
With the myriad of problems facing the efficient operations of Ghana’s only refinery, The Finder can report that the facility continues to make a loss of a minimum of $5 million each time it is forced to shut down due to the unavailability of crude or in the event of a power cut to the facility.
TOR requires a constant supply of eight megawatts of power to be fully operational, but it is able to generate 5.5 megawatts from its generators and depends on ECG for the remaining 2.5 megawatts.
With the erratic power supply over the past three years, the effect on the refinery is anyone’s guess.
By design, the refinery is expected to run continuously for a maximum of two years before it is shut down for a major maintenance of its equipment, but information gathered by The Finder indicates that the refinery is only able to run continuously for only two to three weeks and then shuts down due to unavailability of crude.
The general shutdown turnaround maintenance for 2011 and 2013 were not carried out because of lack of finance.
In 2010, TOR requested for $67.7 million for plant stabilisation and enhancement projects.
Consequently, TOR has completed the first phase of plant stabilisation and enhancement projects on the crude distillation and residual fluid catalytic cracking units at a cost of $30 million given to TOR in 2012.
TOR is awaiting the remaining $37.7 million in government funding to fix the problem and begin a second phase of stabilisation and enhancement projects designed to ensure the reliability of operations at the refinery.
“Now we run the machines for two or three weeks and we shut it down because of the lack of crude oil, so you have small amount of crude and you run for about two weeks, you shut down and you start again and shut down,” Samuel Boateng, Junior Staff Secretary of TOR told The Finder.
“When you start the plant and you shut it down, you lose about $5 million,” he stated.
He explained that the regular shut down of the machines at the facility was having a heavy financial toll on the refinery.
He explained that, ideally, “after every two years you shut the whole equipment down and open every unit to assess its state, and because we have not done this for the past six years, it is really affecting our plant.”
He explained that the refinery deals with very high-temperature equipment and very corrosive chemicals, hence a shutdown cause’s thermal shock to the equipment.
“The effect of starting and shutting down is what breaks down our equipment. We start from a gradual process to a level of about 700 degrees Celsius and all of a sudden there is either a light out, and what it means is that you have to shut down and shutting down at that temperature there is a sudden cooling causing contraction of metals of our equipment,” he explained.
The Finder also gathered that for the past six years, the refinery has not undertaken any maintenance work on the facility, which accounts mainly for the recent shut down just a few months after it resumed operations.
As a result of the incessant shutdown of the plant and lack of maintenance of the facility, a unit at the Residual Fluid Catalytic Cracker, called the regenerator, has a component called the Cyclone, has currently broken down.
A crane to lift this component out for repairs will cost $49,000 per day for four days, an amount management of the refinery is struggling to raise to get the job done.
The Finder gathered that, alternatively, the maintenance personnel at the refinery are opting for a second option of using chain blocks, which involves a lot of manual work and risks in their effort to save the refinery cost.
TOR’s operations were stalled for a long period due to its operational inefficiency and the inability to the facility to establish letters of credit for the purchase of crude oil. It resumed operations on December 29, 2014 only to break down on March 13, 2015.
Yesterday, management, at the behest of anxious workers at the refinery, held a durbar to explain management’s plan to resuscitate the ailing refinery.
The workers’ anxiety stems from rumours making rounds among the workers that government was deliberately running the facility down to enable it justify reasons to privatise it.
In November 2014, then Deputy Minister of Energy and Petroleum, John Jinapor announced that the government was in talks with Petro-Saudi in a joint-venture arrangement to revive the ailing oil refinery. The agreement, when reached, would see the Arabian firm plug the inefficiencies that have engulfed TOR.
Per the agreement, a new marketing firm called TOR-PS (TOR Petro-Saudi) would be set up to procure crude oil and sell the finished product.
Petro-Saudi is expected to control 49% of the stakes while Ghana manages the remaining 51%.
Information gathered by The Finder indicates that the Petro-Saudi deal is premised on getting a healthy and reliable processing plant.