MANILA -- The natural gas resources beneath the West Philippine Sea are so vast the cleaner fuel could energize the Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao grids for at least 20 years, the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers’ Association (LPG-MA) on Sunday said.

“This is one of the compelling reasons why we have to secure our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and its contiguous area, including the seabed of the continental shelf up to 350 miles from the national coastal baseline. We have to defend the zone against China and other foreign threats,” said House Deputy Minority Leader and LPG-MA Rep. Arnel Ty.

“In fact, we should invest in new warships, including frigates, missile gunboats and fast attack crafts, for deployment to the zone. We should build a strong naval base in northwest Palawan,” said Ty, who speaks for the minority bloc in the House energy committee.

The country’s territory in the West Philippine Sea is believed to have a number of Malampaya-like natural gas fields, the lawmaker said.

“We only need to harness three more Malampaya-like fields to power up the whole country. And we’ve already discovered one of the three. It is just a question of exploring some more to ascertain where best to drill and draw out the greatest amount of gas,” Ty explained.

He was referring to the Recto Bank’s Sampaguita field, which is estimated to contain up to 4.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The field lies just 80 nautical miles northwest off the Palawan coast.

Ty cited the tremendous economic as well as environmental benefits of developing the country’s indigenous natural gas resources: Huge foreign exchange savings because the country would be spending less dollars to import coal and oil.

Since natural gas trades at a discount, electricity would be cheaper for all consumers, thus freeing up business and household incomes for other forms of spending;

Billions of pesos in new government royalties; Energy security and economic stability for the country, without having to be troubled by potential power shortages; and

The country’s air quality would improve in a big way due to reduced carbon dioxide discharges.

“We need a cleaner source of power. We have to rely more on natural gas, and less on coal and oil to produce the bulk of our electricity,” Ty noted.

At present, some 34.40 percent of the country’s dependable power generating capacity is produced from coal; 19.07 percent from hydro resources; 17.66 percent from natural gas; 17.30 percent from oil (diesel and fuel oil); 10.28 percent from geothermal; and 1.29 percent from biomass, biodiesel, solar and wind, according to the Department of Energy.

“Among fossil fuels, natural gas contains the least carbon dioxide and burns more efficiently,” Ty pointed out.

Excessive carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere have led to global warming and brutal climate changes, such as severe rainfall and harsh drought.

“In the case of Malampaya, the field’s natural gas displaces around 1.35 million kilograms of carbon dioxide per hour that otherwise would be polluting our air,” Ty said.

Discovered in 1991, the Malampaya offshore gas field in northwest Palawan began commercial production in 2002. The field’s gas is conveyed via a 504-kilometer, 24-inch pipeline to Batangas City, where the fuel drives three power plants with a combined 2,700 megawatts (MW) in full generating capacity.

Malampaya has proven reserves of about 3.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which is expected to last until 2024 to 2030, depending on how aggressively the fuel is harvested.

As of March 2015, the Philippine government has received over P208 billion in royalties from Malampaya.

Based on geological surveys, the United States Energy Information Administration estimates that the West Philippine Sea may contain up to 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 5.4 billion barrels of oil, “with the bulk of the resources likely located in the contested Reed Bank at the northeast end of the Spratlys.” (PNA)