THE government has ordered a temporary suspension of all exploration activities for mineral resources in a disputed part of the South China Sea pending resolution of the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.
Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla said concerned government agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), have agreed that exploration activities in Recto Bank should be shelved until summer of this year.
Petilla said the moratorium will give way for possible talks between the Philippine and Chinese governments to resolve the dispute.
“The government decided to hold off all explorations in that area. At the very least, until this summer,” Petilla told reporters.
If nothing happens to the talks, Petilla said he might ask the DFA, who initiated the suspension, to lift the moratorium so that explorations could push through.
“I will ask again if it is possible to lift the moratorium, if there is any chance even if it’s only one percent, that needs to be explored. So even at the slightest chance, I think it is still worth delaying it,” he said.
UK-based Forum Energy Plc plans to conduct this year a survey within Service Contract (SC) 72 to lay the groundwork for a drilling activity in a disputed part of the South China Sea.
But because of the moratorium, Petilla said Forum Energy’s plan will have to be temporarily shelved. “Besides, it may also take some time to contract a drilling company,” he said.
Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of Philex Petroleum Corp., said that although they believe that China will not give up its claim on the disputed territory, the firm will still pursue the contract.
Asked if Forum Energy will yield the project given the territorial dispute, Pangilinan said: “Of course not. I believe it’s ours.”
Philex Petroleum holds a 60.49-percent interest in Forum Energy, which in turn has a 70-percent stake in SC 72.
Due to delays in the exploration activities, Pangilinan said they will just apply for a contract extension when their contract expires in March next year.
The Department of Energy has granted Forum Energy a one-year extension to drill the wells, giving the SC 72 license holder until Aug 15, 2016 to fulfill its work program on the gas exploration site.
The survey is expected to help Forum Energy determine the stability of the sea basin and identify the ideal location for the oil rig, as well as the exact site where two appraisal wells will be drilled.
Pangilinan earlier said that Forum Energy was looking to commence drilling activity in the Sampaguita gas field within the disputed Reed Bank sometime in the first or second quarter of 2016.
Forum Energy got the SC 72 contract in February 2010. Under the work program, the contractor has an obligation to drill the wells by August 2011.
That deadline was extended to August 2015 to avoid further inflaming a row with China, which is claiming most of the South China Sea territories.