MANILA, Philippines—Solidified methane lying off the coast of Isabela and Aurora could turn the Philippines into a natural gas exporter, Environment Secretary Jesus Paje declared after a Senate hearing on Monday.
All the government awaits is a formal declaration from the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos) that Benham Rise, a 13-million hectare area on the Philippines’ eastern seaboard is located in the country’s continental shelf and is therefore part of its territory, according to Paje.
Studies conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the past five years indicated large deposits of methane in solid form, Paje said.
If the Unclos establishes that Benham Rise is part of the Philippines, “we would have legal basis to enter into exploration agreements with private companies to explore…(the area’s) resources,” said Senator Franklin Drilon, chairman of the Senate finance committee.
The DENR formally submitted its proposed P16.99 billion budget for 2012 to Senate finance committee Monday morning.
The discussion over Benham Rise generated excitement especially after Paje said Philippine representatives have been waiting for just one more meeting “to answer questions” from a special Unclos committee before the issuance of a declaration.
Paje believes there is no reason why the Unclos would not issue a decision favorable to the country “since we are the only claimant, unlike in the western side (where the Spratly islands are).”
Drilon said a favorable Unclos declaration would also mean “increasing our territory from present 30 million hectares to possibly 43 million” with the inclusion of Benham Rise.
Paje said the land area being eyed “is about the size of Luzon, Samar and Leyte combined.”
“We have submitted a claim under (Unclos) sometime in late 2008. We got a reply from the UN lately (asking us) to answer some questions. They intend to pass a resolution sometime in mid-2012 to approve our claim (that it is) part of the Philippine continental shelf,” Paje told reporters after the hearing.
“Benham Rise is very relevant because of its gas deposits (which has been) confirmed particularly by (the) National Mapping Resource Information Agency. It has given us the data that (the area) contains solid methane. We have not explored it but we have found nodules of methane in the surface and this is very important to us,” the secretary added.
Paje said an American geologist surnamed Benham discovered the area running between 40 and 2,000 meters below the waterline in 1933.
“But we are able to define categorically that it is attached to our continental shelf only recently. We have proven (to) Unclos that it is attached so now the UN is considering it for decision sometime in 2012,” Paje said.
“We have been saying in the past that this country can provide for its own energy source. And Benham Rise falls within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone…We can substantially provide for this country. In fact, there is the possibility to export gas in the future,” Paje said.
The secretary added that there would be a demand for gas deposits in Benham Rise “because it’s much cleaner than fossil fuels.”