THE Philippine Rise off the Pacific coast of northern Luzon could serve as a source of energy exports once the appropriate technology develops to tap its reserves, according to Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, who proposed legislation to create an agency regulating the area’s development.
Mr. Gatchalian, who sponsored Senate Bill 2024 which proposes to create the Philippine Rise Development Authority (PRDA), said in his sponsorship speech: “As the technology to exploit gas hydrates for commercial energy purposes develops over the next decade or two, the Philippines could eventually become an energy exporting powerhouse to rival even the most powerful oil-producing nations.”
Mr. Gatchalian said the seabed of the Philippine Rise, also known as the Benham Rise, holds a “potentially massive treasure trove of rare and precious resources,” including methane gas hydrates.
“Methane gas hydrates, composed of natural gas encased in ice and usually found deep under the ocean in the seabed, are highly touted for their potential as the so-called ‘fuel of tomorrow’,” he said.
The areas being offered under the Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program (PCECP) for exploration by the Department of Energy (DoE) do not include the Philippine Rise.
PCECP allows the government to develop and utilize indigenous petroleum resources under a service contract with qualified domestic and international exploration companies.
The DoE has identified 14 “pre-determined” areas under PCECP: one area in the Cagayan Basin, three in eastern Palawan, three in Sulu, two in Agusan-Davao, one in Cotabato, and four in western Luzon.
In a previous interview, DoE Undersecretary Donato D. Marcos said prospective contractors may nominate areas other than the 14 identified by the agency.
In his speech, Mr. Gatchalian said the country’s claim to the undersea area has basis after 11 years of scientific research and international legal advocacy.
He said the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the claim of the Philippines in 2012 and recognized its sovereign rights over 13 million hectares of the Philippine Rise region as part of the Philippine extended continental shelf.
He said with 11.4 million hectares of the rise already falling within the country’s exclusive economic zone, the recognition brought the entire 24.4 million hectares of the rise under Philippine jurisdiction.
“For context, the land area of the entire island of Luzon is just under 10.5 million hectares,” he said.
He said the bill takes a “responsible, proactive, and forward-looking approach” to developing the natural resources of the Philippine Rise by establishing the needed institutional mechanisms. The measure will facilitate “a coordinated and integrated approach to optimizing the full potential of the rise, while conserving its ecology and resources for the benefit of future generations, he added.
He said the PRDA will be a one-stop shop for all concerns involving the area.
“The 15-member Board of the PRDA will be chaired by the President of the Philippines and will include representatives from pertinent cabinet departments and technical agencies,” he said.
A provision of the bill provides that no “proposals, plans, programs, projects or activities involving the Philippine Rise Region including, but not limited to, marine science research, exploration, and exploitation, whether conducted by Filipino and foreign nationals, shall be carried out… without the clearance of the [PRDA].”
He said since the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of National Defense, and the National Security Council are represented on PRDA’s board, “we can be sure that the well-publicized past instances of unauthorized research in the area will not be repeated.” — Victor V. Saulon