• Use it or lose it


    I have written before about the need to review, expand and improve existing regulations on our pipeline systems to ensure their safety and reliability, and the need for Congress to pass an enabling law for this purpose.

    Well, it turns out that Senator Nancy Binay has already filed a bill in the 16th Congress seeking to establish a regulatory and governing body over the management and maintenance of Philippine pipelines.

    Binay’s bill (Senate Bill No. 1259) would address the need for a single governing body that will regulate, monitor and oversee the operations of petroleum pipelines and it would enhance the Department of Energy’s jurisdiction over them. It would also establish a Petroleum Pipeline Code that will serve as the basis for the regulation, monitoring and overseeing of petroleum pipelines in the country.

    In her explanatory note Binay says that it has been several years since the First Philippine Industrial Corporation’s pipeline leaked oil into the basement of West Tower Condominium but up to this time there is no single governing body that has a clear and substantial jurisdiction over pipelines in terms of regulation as to safety, specification and overall operation.

    This is true. FPIC’s 117-kilometer Batangas-to-Manila white oil pipeline was closed way back in 2010 by a temporary environmental protection order issued against it by the Supreme Court.

    Since then, the segment of the pipeline that leaked oil into the basement of West Tower in Barangay Bangkal in Makati City has already been replaced.

    The entire stretch of the pipeline has been inspected and tested by the Department of Energy and its integrity and safety ascertained by various government and independent experts.

    In 2012, the DOE recommended to the Court of Appeals (CA), which was hearing the case for the Supreme Court, to allow the reopening the white oil pipeline.

    Also, I understand more than a few residents of West Tower have already moved back into their condominium and are happily living there now after FPIC rehabilitated not only their basement parking bu t the building itself.

    Obviously, a lot of things have already happened in those last four years but, as Senator Binay rightly notes, there has been no pipeline regulation act passed in Congress, even as the Supreme Court, after more than three years of litigation, still has not settled once and for all whether this important pipeline would be allowed to operate again.

    Congress needs to pass this Binay bill or some version of it after thorough scrutiny and in consultation with various concerned sectors. 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.

    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.

    For instance, fuel pipelines are faster, safer and more cost-effective compared to using barges, lorries and trucks. You eliminate incidents of hijackings, product contamination and pilferage. You can avoid the deadly accidents from trucking which has killed hundreds of people. Indeed, we have seen more than a few of them lately, haven’t we?

    A fuel pipeline is also not affected by weather disturbances like typhoons and floods, which has delayed deliveries of oil products countless times. It can also help reduce traffic congestion. There would be no need to ban oil trucks at certain times because fuel can be transported 24/7 with no repercussions to traffic congestion, helping our cities achieve a lower carbon footprint.

    Even Senator Binay noted that since the closure of FPIC’s Batangas-to-Manila white oil pipeline, the efficient and reliable supply of oil products (gasoline, diesel, kerosene and jet fuel) to Metro Manila and nearby provinces has been severely affected.

    Before it was shut down, the pipeline provided around 60 percent of the fuel supply in Metro Manila through the Pandacan depot, the country’s largest oil depot. It was considered Greater Metro Manila’s energy lifeline, supplying to critical industries like transport, construction, food manufacturing, rice and sugar mills, mining and power generation.

    Four years is more than enough time to determine if this badly needed white oil pipeline is safe to operate once again, and the Supreme Court should rule on the case.

    Congress in the meantime should work on the passage of an oil and gas pipeline regulation law, consolidating bills like those of Senator Binay.


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