A PROGRAM establishing a strategic petroleum reserve remains a priority, with regulations being prepared and a feasibility study by the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) under way, the Department of Energy said.

“That is still a priority project,” Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi told reporters. “There are a lot of regulatory policies (being prepared). Tuloy-tuloy ‘yan dahil kailangan natin ‘yan para sa ating energy security (We are pushing the program because we need it for our energy security),” he added.

The collapse in oil prices during the pandemic offers an opportunity to stock up on petroleum products, Rino E. Abad, the department’s Oil Industry Management Bureau director, told the publication in April.

On the timing of the project, Mr. Cusi said: “We will make an announcement in due time. I just want to assure you that it is continuing, we are looking at how we can best achieve it for our energy security.”

Meanwhile, he said the investment of PNOC’s exploration unit in the country’s sole natural gas project will not be affected by the government’s policy of redirecting funds for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) aid.

“That will not be affected,” Mr. Cusi said, referring to PNOC Exploration Company’s (PNOC-EC) plan to acquire an additional 10% stake in the Malampaya deepwater gas-to-power project off northwest Palawan.

Mr. Cusi, who heads the PNOC board, said in December that the company will be buying more shares in the Malampaya project.

In April, the PNOC remitted P7 billion to the government to help fund the COVID-19 containment effort, in compliance with the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Of the total, P2 billion was taken out of the company’s budget for exploration activities.

In March, UC Malampaya Philippines Pte Ltd., a unit of Udenna Corp., completed its acquisition of the 45% share of Chevron Malampaya LLC in the Malampaya project under the DoE-awarded Service Contract 38.

Shell Philippines Exploration B.V., operator of the natural gas project, holds a 45% stake, while PNOC-EC owns the remaining 10%.

PNOC-EC has yet to respond to a request for clarification on whether it intends to go ahead with its plan to expand its stake. — Adam J. Ang