Underwater deposits could make Philippines a gas exporter

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Monday, August 15, 2011


THE Philippines may soon be able to provide its own energy needs -- with more for export -- if it secures possession of Bentham Rise, an underwater area believed to have mineral and gas deposits.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje told the Senate finance committee Monday that the department is readying all documents and requirements that it will present to the United Nations commission handling the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) by June 2012.

Paje said he will go to the UN commission himself.

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The Philippines is the sole claimant of Benham Rise and it filed its claim back in 2009. That claim was filed with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

Paje said the Bentham Rise, named for US Admiral Andrew Bentham, has been on maps since 1933 but its connection to the Philippine continental shelf was found only recently.

It was found off the coast of Aurora province and is part of the Philippine continental shelf and its exclusive economic zone. With just the Pacific Ocean to the east, Hawaii is probably the next closest island.

"Our claim is quite exclusive," he said.

Paje, former head of the Mining bureau, said the claim is "very relevant" because bathymetric surveys indicate minerals and natural gas within.

He said solidified methane was found during mapping activities in the area. Paje added the "probability is very high" that the rise also contains oil deposits.

He said, however, that there may be more natural gas than oil, and "that is better because it is cleaner."

Senator Franklin Drilon, finance committee chair, said once the UN gives the Philippines control of the underwater plateau, it can offer operating and exploratory rights for private investors.

He said the area may have enough gas to make the country self-sufficient in its energy needs, and even "to export in the future."

The Benham Rise has an area of 13 million hectares and is 40 meters underwater at its shallowest point.

Paje said the area of Benham Rise is larger than Luzon and the provinces of Samar and Leyte combined.

If the UN recognizes the Philippine claim, the country's territory will increase to 43 million hectares from 30 million hectares.

Paje said the government is also exploring other areas within the Philippine exclusive economic zone for possible sources of natural gas. He said exploration in the Sulu-Celebes Sea is ongoing.

A natural gas project is already in place at the Malampaya gas field off Palawan island. (Sunnex)

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