By Myrna M. Velasco
While sorting out a diplomatic tussle with China, Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi has also called on neighbor-countries in Southeast Asia for a collaborative effort to pursue joint exploration for oil and gas resources in the region.
The Philippine energy chief who just came from the ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting (AMEM) in Bangkok last week has relayed that he vouched for the idea of “joint exploration” that could be pursued with the other ASEAN countries.
Cusi stated that this move will not only help the Philippines advance its energy security, but will also bring parallel benefits to neighboring countries.
“Now more than ever, it is vital for the ASEAN to work together,” Cusi stressed; adding that joint petroleum exploration could cement pathways for energy security for countries in the region.
The Philippines is considerably sluggish in exploring its oil and gas resources and that has been adversely impacting on its quest for long-term energy independence.
Other than oil and gas exploration and resource developments, Cusi also sought regional cooperation on the sphere of innovations in the renewable energy sector, climate change mitigation and the deployment of microgrid technologies.
“Shared borders mean shared responsibilities. It also means we face common challenges in the midst of pursuing our collective vision for the region,” Cusi stressed.
On the sphere of oil exploration, the Philippine energy department is currently at the process of seeking additional budget from Congress that will aid it in improving the gathering, storage and processing of data relative to the country’s petroleum blocks being offered to investors.
The department admitted that what it currently has are “weak data” and it was assessed that this partly weighed down investors’ interest on its recently held petroleum contracting round.
DOE officials indicated they will file for “data improvement and storage budget” with Congress in the next deliberations of the General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the 2020 national budget.
Aside from data gathering and storage, the department acknowledged that the agency further needs improvement on “data interpretation” – hence, this will be included in the budget pie to be sought from the legislative branch.
The department said this will be very crucial as the pre-determined blocks that failed to corner investors in the bidding round will already be transformed into “nominated areas” – and investors will be depending largely on “viable data” so their appetite could be whetted to flow capital in the country’s upstream petroleum sector.
“We are studying ways on how to secure funding from Congress in order to fund efforts to get more data, store more data and interpret data – that’s under discussion,” Energy Assistant Secretary Leonido Pulido III had previously apprised media.
He emphasized it will be the department’s Energy Resource Development Bureau (ERBD) that will determine the extent of budget that they will be needing for data management on the country’s petroleum blocks.
In the recent auction of petroleum blocks under the re-designed Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program (PCECP), only four areas secured offers – that was out of the 14 pre-determined blocks that the energy department had aggressively marketed.
For the nominated areas, there were three Filipino-owned nominating companies, but no one came forward to challenge their offers within the 60-day period prescribed by the DOE guidelines.
It has also been acknowledged by the energy department that it will need to attract investors with more extensive technical experience in oil exploration and development; plus the global players that have multi-billion dollar financial resources in case discoveries will turn out commercially viable in the future.
With the well-anticipated depletion of the Malampaya field, the country badly needs new discoveries that will replace the mammoth capacity that its commercial gas field’s production will be voiding – if not in 2024, at least until 2029-2030 as the field operator has projected.