THE Supreme Court (SC) has allowed the First Philippine Industrial Corp. (FPIC) to reopen its 117-kilometer Batangas-to-Manila fuel pipeline if a series of tests that will be supervised by the Department of Energy will ensure its safety.
It’s about time. This case has been languishing in court since 2010, when the West Tower condominium management filed a writ of kalikasan against FPIC after a segment of the pipeline leaked oil into the building’s basement.
Since then, the segment of the pipeline that leaked had already been replaced. The entire stretch of the pipeline had been inspected and tested by the DOE and its integrity and safety ascertained by various government and independent experts. In 2012, the DOE recommended to the CA, which was hearing the case for the Supreme Court, to allow the reopening of the pipeline.
Also, I understand more than a few residents of West Tower have already moved back into their condominium units after the FPIC rehabilitated not only their basement parking but the entire building itself.
Obviously, a lot of things have already happened in the last five years. Considering the slow pace of our justice system, it is certainly not news that the case is still in court and in need of closure. The government should decide once and for all if the pipeline should be allowed to reopen.
Not too many people are aware of the significance of this pipeline. Before it was shut down, the pipeline used to provide around 70 percent of the fuel supply in Metro Manila through the Pandacan depot. Since it was ordered closed, the oil transport industry has had to hire 400 tanker trucks to ferry the oil that the pipeline supplied. This definitely worsened traffic congestion and air pollution in Metro Manila and increased the potential for road accidents (indeed, several accidents involving fuel trucks have already been reported in the news over the past years.)
Also, during floods which nowadays occur even during brief downpour, fuel trucks have a hard time making deliveries. A pipeline is not affected by traffic or floods. It is a lot cheaper, safer and faster to transport fuel through a pipeline system and it leaves a much lesser carbon footprint.
But the reopening of the pipeline also raises another question since the Supreme Court had ordered the closure and relocation of the Pandacan depot, which houses the oil storage facilities of major oil companies in the country that the pipeline supplies to.
With no Pandacan depot, where would the pipeline supply fuel? The oil companies or the pipeline operator itself would have to find a space large enough to accommodate a new oil depot anywhere along the route of the pipeline.
After oil firms shut down their facilities in Pandacan to comply with the Supreme Court order, they would have to get their supply directly from oil refineries in Bataan and Batangas, which would incur additional transport costs and around one to two days of lag time, according to the DoE.
Again, what would that do to traffic and to fuel prices nationwide? Surely it would have an adverse impact on logistics and fuel costs, which would trickle down to end consumers. It would also adversely affect traffic and air pollution levels with hundreds of fuel trucks ferrying back and forth.
This is why I do hope a strategically located space for a new depot, which the pipeline can supply to, still exists in this already crowded metropolis.
The pipeline is of tremendous use to the country. If the pipeline is able to work again and supply to a depot within Metro Manila it would keep the refineries out in the countryside while the locus of fuel distribution would be as close as possible to the country’s larges concentration of oil consumers.
Congress in the meantime should work on the passage of an oil and gas pipeline regulation law, consolidating bills like those of Senator Nancy Binay.
We need to review, expand and improve existing regulations on our pipeline systems to ensure their safety and reliability.
Senator Binay’s Senate Bill No. 1259 seeks to establish a single governing body that will regulate, monitor and oversee the operations of petroleum pipelines, as well as a Petroleum Pipeline Code.
There are other pipelines operating in the country aside from FPIC’s temporarily closed white oil pipeline and its 105-km Batangas-to-Sucat black oil pipeline, which delivers bunker fuel and is still operating.
The Philippines has 529.5 kilometers of natural gas transmission pipelines that transport gas from the Malampaya Gas Field to fuel three power plants: the 500 MW San Lorenzo, 1,000 MW Sta Rita and 1,200 MW Ilijan power plants in Batangas province.
Nine other natural gas pipeline projects are in the construction pipeline for Luzon from 2017 to 2022.
The fact that the Philippine government has more than a few pipeline projects under construction only shows that pipelines are still preferred over other modes of transporting energy products.