|The US estimates that oil fields in the Gulf of Guinea will supply over a quarter of American oil by 2015 [Al Jazeera]
Ghana has joined the ranks of the world's oil producers, pumping crude oil for the first time from an offshore field in the Gulf of Guinea.
Ghanaian President John Atta Mills turned on the oil valves Wednesday in a ceremony that was broadcast live from a 330-metre-long floating platform located 60km off Ghana's Atlantic coast.
The Jubilee oil field, discovered three years ago, holds an estimated 1.8 billion barrels of oil, and will begin producing around 55,000 barrels per day in the coming weeks.
Oil production is expected, however, to rise to about 120,000 barrels over the next six months, making the country Africa's seventh largest oil producer.
The British-based explorer Tullow Oil PLC is leading the consortium that is operating the production facilities.
The start of commercial production sees Ghana join the ranks of 16 other oil-producing African countries
President Mills said that "oil will be a blessing and not curse" for Ghana, echoing widespread hopes among the 23-million-strong Ghanaian population that the country will be able to avoid the mistakes made in other resource-rich African countries.
Oil wealth in the region has often fueled conflict rather than boosted development.
The President also reiterated that the revenue from the oil "will be used for the benefit of all, and not the benefit of a few".
Ghana is already the world's second largest cocoa producer, and also ranks second on the African continent in gold exports.
The government expects Jubilee's oil and gas to help double the growth rate to as much as 12 per cent by next year, creating funds that can be used to boost infrastructure and lay the foundation for new industrial sectors.
The Gulf of Guinea increasingly represents an important source of oil, with the US estimating that it will supply over a quarter of American oil by 2015. It has already sent US military trainers to the region to help local navies to secure shipping.
Nearby Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo Republic are already exporting oil from the Gulf, while Liberia and Sierra Leone remain hopeful of joining the club.