Gov’t urged to lift suspension of Recto Bank drilling activities

Following the termination of negotiations for the planned joint exploration between Manila and Beijing in the West Philippine Sea, a senior member of Congress wants the Department of Energy (DOE) to lift the suspension of gas and oil drilling activities in Recto Bank.

“The DOE put off the drilling activities in deference to the negotiations. Now that the talks have been terminated, the department should withdraw its suspension order,” Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chairperson of the House strategic intelligence committee, said in a statement on Sunday.

“This way, the private parties contracted by the Philippine government to develop the offshore Sampaguita gas discovery in Recto Bank can proceed with their drilling activities,” Pimentel said.

The DOE on April 6 ordered the private operators of Service Contract (SC) 72 and SC 75 to put on hold their exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea in deference to the country’s talks with China on possible cooperation arrangements and the maritime areas to which they would apply.

Prior to the suspension order, the DOE gave the operator of SC 72, Forum Energy Ltd., until October 16 this year to drill its two commitment wells in Sampaguita at a cost of $100 million (P5.4 billion).

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced on Thursday that talks for the planned joint exploration between Manila and Beijing in the West Philippine Sea have been “completely terminated” upon instruction of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The President had spoken. I carried out his instructions to the letter: oil and gas discussions are terminated completely. Nothing is pending; everything is over,” Locsin said in his speech during the 124th founding anniversary celebration of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Sampaguita is estimated to contain anywhere from 3.5 to 4.6 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas, which is comparable to if not larger than Malampaya’s 3.4 tcf of gas reserves when the latter was first discovered by Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. in 1992.

Sampaguita is located 250 kilometers southwest of Malampaya, which has been supplying 20 percent of Luzon’s electricity demand for more than two decades.

Pimentel earlier warned that Malampaya might be depleted by 2027, and without fresh gas from Sampaguita, Luzon could face power shortages in the years ahead.