Prior to 1954, there were no refineries in Africa. All refined products were supplied to Africa from European and American refineries, with SHELL and MOBIL operating in West Africa. Tema Oil Refinery then GHAIP, started operations in 1963 as a tolling refinery by processing crude oil from the multinational companies into finished products for a fee. Over the past 50 years, TOR has evolved from a simple hydroskimming plant to a conversion refinery, providing the petroleum needs of the nation.
The refinery was built through the initiative of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to spearhead and stimulate Ghana’s economic, industrial, investment and development activities. Osagyefo believed that someday, Ghana would discover crude oil which could be processed at the refinery for value addition.
Subsequently, on January 1961, an agreement was signed in Accra between the Government of Ghana and Ente Nazionale Indrocarburi (ENI), an Italian company for the construction of an oil refinery. The Refinery was built at a cost of £ 8 ½ million. With the construction, Ghana was positioned as one of the countries with a refinery and the 6th largest in Africa with a capacity of 28,000 barrels per stream day. The company was called the Ghanaian Italian Petroleum (GHAIP) Limited, which was owned 100% by ENI.
AGIP Petroli designed the refinery, and in 1961 construction works started with materials from Italy. As many as 1,500 people were employed for the construction works. Of this number, 1,200 were Ghanaians with Snam Progetti as the contractors. The construction works was completed in 1963.
Of the two locations which were identified and assessed, Tema was the most suitable. This was due to access to fresh water, the harbor and the oil jetty. Ada on the other hand had no access to fresh water.
On September 28, 2013, the refinery will be 50 years. Exactly 50 years ago, the refinery was officially commissioned by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah a hydroskimming plant with a processing capacity of one million metric tons of crude oil. He said it was the Government’s intention that “the refinery becomes the vital foundation for the establishment of other industries in Ghana.” He further stated that the oil refinery marked the beginning of an important upsurge in Ghana’s industrial programmes. According to him, “it will help the Ghanaian acquire new skills and contribute greatly to national development.”
Nkrumah’s dream 50 years on has materialized. Osagyefo pointed out that for the first time Ghana would be producing liquid petroleum gas, normal gasoline, premium gasoline and diesel oil, kerosene, gas oil and fuel oil. These “made in Ghana” petroleum products, he believed, would apart from stimulating industrial activity, also substantially reduce the country’s dependence on imported finished products.
To all Ghanaians, the ceremony marked yet another significant milestone in the industrial revolution taking place in Ghana.
The management of ENI group, upon completion of the refinery, trained 6 graduates, 22 under-graduates and about 50 technical assistants, most of whom had completed studies in petroleum technology in Italy. This was prior to the operation of the refinery.
The refinery during its actual operation employed 300 people. Out of this number 250 were Ghanaians who were also gaining related training in the field, and the remaining 50, were Italian technicians.
In the last 50 years, 48 refineries have been built across Africa. Tema Oil Refinery has been the pivot of Ghana’s socio-economic growth, contributing about 10% of Gross Domestic Products (GDP) in 2006-2008. The company has transformed from a simple hydroskimming plant to a secondary conversion plant with value addition.
Besides being a strategic investment for the country, the refinery improved the balance of payments by reducing the petroleum import bill. The refinery and the development of attendant industries such as manufacturing industries have created jobs for Ghanaians. There has been a positive influence on academia. Students as well as lecturers have benefitted from various structured training offered by the refinery. Other benefits include the provision of finished products for the aviation, domestic and ensuring environmentally sustainability through the provision of Liquefied Petroleum gas (LPG)