The Philippine president has approved the lifting of a ban on oil and gas exploration in or near disputed areas of the South China Sea that was imposed six years ago because of escalating territorial tensions with China, an official said Thursday.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said companies awarded contracts to explore for oil and gas in three sprawling areas off the western Philippines have been asked to resume their search operations, including in a potentially oil- and gas-rich region called Reed Bank.
Chinese ships tried to shoo away a Filipino exploration vessel in Reed Bank at least once in the past, and it was not immediately clear if China was aware of the Philippine decision. President Rodrigo Duterte has nurtured closer ties with Beijing since taking office in 2016 and put the territorial rift on the backburner in his initial years in power to avoid offending China.
“We need to explore so we may address the country’s energy security,” Cusi said in a statement. He thanked Duterte for approving the energy department’s recommendation to lift the yearslong moratorium on energy exploration.
An offshore gas field called Malampaya, which is closer to the western Philippine province of Palawan and supplies about 40% of the power needs of the country’s northern Luzon region, may be depleted of its reserves in the near future, worrying Philippine officials