Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Oil and gas prospects in Central Philippines most promising

Cebu, Philippines (01 July) -- Oil and gas prospects in Central Philippines are most promising, says the Department of Energy (DOE) in the region after it completed its seismic surveys in the seas of Cebu and will soon start searching for oil and natural gas deposits in the seas of Bohol.

DOE regional director Antonio Labios in a media interview last week said, "DOE and the contractor officials are actually having a continuing dialog with the local officials and NGOs in Bohol since stakeholders in the province opposed the survey but definitely, the seismic survey in the Bohol seas will start this week."

In a briefing conducted by DOE to the members of the RDC-Infrastructure Development Committee (IDC) during its June 8 meeting, a delegation from DOE-Manila led by its undersecretary Guillermo Balce presented to the body updates on the government’s exploration surveys in the Philippine area.

Balce revealed that the DOE has scheduled seismic surveys in June and July 2007 in the Cebu Strait within the vicinity of Argao town to explore the prospects of oil and gas resources in the area. The project is called “2007 Trinity Marine Seismic Survey Services Contract 51 LEG in Cebu,” or SC-51.

According to Balce, the contract was awarded to NorAsian Energy Ltd., and SC-51 is just one of the many exploration projects of the Philippine government and whatever oil and gas resources that will be discovered are government-owned.

DOE further said, most of its oil explorations are done in the Palawan and Sulu Sea areas but one of the most promising areas is in the Visayas Basin that covers some 80,000 in the Central Philippines and 60% of which lies offshore.

The prospects of oil and natural gas resources that are found on both sides of Cebu and Bohol that NorAsian will explore cover some 2040 portion in the Cebu Strait and another 2400 mostly on-shore areas of northeastern Leyte and some offshore areas too. These areas had been assessed as “moderate risk, matured prospects with high to very high recoverable reserves potential” for both natural gas and oil, the exploration team explained.

In the same RDC-IDC briefing, the local officials of Bohol and Cebu expressed their concerns on the effect of the survey to the marine life in the areas and to the livelihood of the marginal fishermen.

The DOE has assured the local government officials that NorAsia has already coordinated with the concerned LGUs, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), dive operators and all other organizations and has done an extensive information campaign and consultations with stakeholders relative to the exploration project. Balce added that the contractor had taken all necessary precautions and safety measures before it undertook the surveys.

For safety measures according to NorAsia, they have already requested sea crafts plying the route to keep a distance of 8.5km from the seismic survey vessel while swimming activities must be done at 10km away from the vessel.

The contractor added the survey areas were cleared of fishing gear such as “Payaw” and similar structures. Fishes and whales were also driven away from the survey areas through what they call “Test shots.”

“All these measures are necessary because the seismic survey vessel has limited ability to maneuver and it cannot stop immediately and furthermore, the survey operations emit sound energy of up to 200 decibels, exceeding the sound levels that are considered safe to the hearing of human and whales and other sea mammals,” NorAsia explained.

NorAsia experienced delays in the conduct of the seismic surveys in Cebu’s waters when the affected fishermen in the towns of Argao and Sibonga raised the issue on compensation to their inability to fish for ten days when their “payaws” were dismantled. However, the issue was immediately resolved and the contractor paid about P287,000 and some P250,000 to the affected fishermen in Sibonga and Argao respectively.

As the surveys were on-going, several environmental groups and NGOs in Bohol led by Lawyer Raul Barbarona, ELAC executive director, with City Legal Officer and environmentalist Doni Piquero, Integrated Bar of the Philippines Bohol representative and lawyer Florendo Columnas and Bohol Alliance of Non-Government Organizations (BANGON) went to court for a temporary restraining order on the survey.

As these developed, DOE regional director Antonio Labios said, as soon as the search for oil and natural gas deposits are completed, consultations and public hearings are conducted before the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) issues an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the exploration to begin.

According to EMB-7 director Allan Aranguez, “because the project is wide scale, the issuance of the ECC to the project must be supported with resolutions from the affected LGUs that they have conducted public hearings and that they have understood and approved of the project.

Arranguez added, “That will take some time because before the municipalities approve such resolutions, they must also have the endorsements of every affected barangay.”

Meantime, the search for oil and natural gas resources in the Central Philippines continues as the DOE boldly embarked on an aggressive petroleum exploration, development and production to improve the country’s energy self-sufficiency. Oil and gas discoveries will not only increase energy sufficiency, it will also lead to the growth of the energy industry; attract overseas investments; and create more jobs, national pride and technology transfer. (PIA-Cebu/MBCN)

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