THE Department of Energy (DoE) said no counterbids were received for three oil exploration blocks in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

In an e-mail interview with BusinessWorld, the department’s Energy Resources Development Bureau (ERDB) said there were no counter-proposals to explore Nominated Areas 6, 7, and 8 under the Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program (PCECP) after the challenge periods ended last week.

Area 6, which was nominated by an unidentified party on March 6, is a 1.432 million hectares block north of Recto or Reed Bank.

Areas 7 and 8, which were chosen by undisclosed entities on March 9, have areas of 1.5 million hectares and 1.412 million hectares, respectively.

Earlier, the bureau said it did not receive any counteroffers to explore Nominated Area No. 5, for which the challenge period lapsed on March 31. The block is situated along the Mindoro-Cuyo basin.

The PCECP is a petroleum service contract awarding mechanism that allows the government to develop indigenous petroleum resources in partnership with qualified domestic and international exploration companies.

Under this program, service contracts are awarded via a competitive selection process or via nomination.

The DoE-ERDB said it will formally open the applications for the exploration sites when Metro Manila is no longer under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

DoE Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi has said in an ANC interview that the collapse in oil prices has affected exploration activity across the country as potential overseas partners reevaluate their projects.

“Because of the low price of oil, these exploration (companies) will take time to think (about) their options,” Mr. Cusi said.

The government could return to formal discussions with Chinese partners for joint exploration in the disputed WPS as soon as the enhanced community quarantine is lifted.

“Maybe after the ECQ, we will sit down with our Chinese counterpart to see what is the best way to explore and exploit the resources,” Mr. Cusi said.

Areas currently under ECQ are the National Capital Region, Central Luzon (except Aurora), Calabarzon, Pangasinan, Benguet, Iloilo province, Cebu, Bacolod City, Davao City, Albay, and Zamboanga.

The rest of the country was placed under the more relaxed general community quarantine between May 1 and 15. — Adam J. Ang