The Department of Energy (DOE) is eyeing at least five petroleum wells to be drilled at the West Philippine Sea (WPS) following the government’s lifting of exploration moratorium in the disputed territory.

The department indicated that it is expecting one well each to be drilled at service contracts (SC) 54 and 58 in Northwest Palawan; two wells at SC 59 in Southwest Palawan basin; and one well for SC 72 at the Recto Bank, which also straddles Northwest Palawan basin.

The other oil and gas block at WPS under SC 75 has proposed to acquire, process and interpret 1,000 square-kilometers of 3D seismic data or 2,000 line-kilometer of 2D seismic data.

These exploration activities at the specified petroleum blocks will yield $24.6 million worth of investments (or roughly P1.325 billion at current Philippine peso-US dollar exchange rate), according to data provided by the DOE.

Nevertheless, these targeted exploration activities are currently stuck at preparation and planning phases given safety issues raised by the service-contract holders; while the rest sought for force majeure declaration on their work programs.

For SC 58, in particular, operator Nido Petroleum was granted one-year force majeure on its work program, based on an approval bestowed by the energy department around March this year.

At SC 54, Nido Petroleum also lodged an application for force majeure declaration and that is still pending for approval of the DOE; while state-run Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC) is currently requesting that its work program at SC 59 be placed on force majeure status.

The SC 72 and SC 75 blocks under Forum Energy and PXP Energy of businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan have stated readiness to resume on their extended seismic survey and exploration activities, but until this time, they are still on dialogue with DOE on assurance of safety and security on their offshore operations given the persisting territorial strife at WPS.

Despite snagged oil and gas drilling ventures at the WPS, the DOE insisted that “these activities are concrete and explicit forms of the enforcement of sovereign rights consistent with our real gains in the South China Sea arbitral award.”

And since there had not been a single petroleum well drilled under the Duterte administration, the energy department argued that “in the oil and gas industry, exploration activities include a thorough study and understanding of the geological and geophysical characteristics of the area, as well as conduct of on-site survey and drilling activities.”

The DOE added “due to the significant investment involved in carrying out exploration programs, on-site exploration activities are carefully planned to ensure the maximum coverage of data collection in the study area.”

With the lingering delays in the exploration activities, the department noted it is “consistently monitoring the progress of each project and ensuring that the service contractors’ commitments are being fulfilled.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (