By Mario Casayuran
The Philippines may eventually become an energy exporting powerhouse to rival even the most powerful oil-producing nations.
This was the bold forecast of Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate energy committee, when he delivered Monday his sponsorship speech of a bill seeking to create a Philippine (Benham) Rise Development Authority (PRDA) to tap and manage the natural resources at the Philippine (Benham) Rise.
Benham Rise is an 11.4-million hectare undersea plateau within the Philippine Extended Continental Shelf in the Pacific Ocean east of Luzon, particularly Aurora province.
Gatchalian said the possibility of the Philippines being an energy exporting powerhouse some day could come sooner rather than later.
“Just last month an Israeli oil firm expressed to the Department of Energy (DoE) its interest in exploring the potential of the gas hydrates found in the Rise,’’ Gatchalian said.
He said he honestly believes that the Philippine Rise would give an abundance of energy and improved living conditions of Filipinos in the succeeding generations “if we take care of our natural resources.”
Gatchalian, also chairman of the Senate economic affairs committee, pointed out that after 11 long years of scientific research and international legal advocacy, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf finally approved the claim of the Philippines in 2012 and recognized our sovereign rights over 13 million hectares of the Philippine Rise region as part of the Philippine Extended Continental Shelf.
“With 11.4 million hectares of the Rise already falling within our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), this brought the entire 24.4 million hectares of the Rise under our jurisdiction. For context, the land area of the entire island of Luzon is just under 10.5 million hectares,’’ he said.
He said the seabed of the Philippine Rise holds a potentially massive treasure trove of rare and precious resources, the most impactful of which may be methane gas hydrates.
“Methane gas hydrates, composed of natural gas encased in ice and usually found deep under the ocean in the seabed, are highly touted for their potential as the so-called ‘fuel of tomorrow’,’’ he explained.
Gatchalian said he expects that technology to exploit gas hydrates for commercial energy purposes could be developed over the next decade or two.