Local, foreign firms eager to explore West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines — Local and foreign companies, including the MVP Group’s PXP Energy and Dennis Uy’s Udenna Group, are eager to explore for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea following the lifting of the moratorium on drilling activities in the disputed area, according to Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.

The Duterte administration’s announcement has sent shares of Pangilinan-led PXP Energy soaring last Friday to close at P7.72 per share, up 49.9 percent. London-listed Forum Energy plc., a unit of PXP holds the license for Service Contract 72, but exploration in the area had been put on hold by the previous administration due to geopolitical tensions.

Service Contract 72, or the Recto Bank concession, is located in the West Philippine Sea, west of Palawan Island and southwest of the Malampaya Gas Field.

Roberto Ongpin’s Atok Big Wedge’s shares also rallied by 49.87 percent to close at P11.54. The company’s subsidiary Tidemark Holdings Limited, a Hong Kong-based company, holds 20 percent of Forum Energy plc., according to its company profile.

The MVP Group is eager to commence drilling activities in the area, while Uy’s Udenna already submitted a proposal to the Department of Energy to explore for oil in the West Philippine Sea last Sept. 25, even before last week’s announcement, Cusi told The STAR.

Sought for comment, a source from the MVP Group said it is part of the vision of tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of the group, to have an integrated energy business. The MVP Group also includes Manila Electric Co., the listed power distribution giant.

Uy likewise is cementing his role in the power sector to also complement his oil company Phoenix Petroleum. His Udenna Corp. is now part of the $4.5 billion gas to power Malampaya project in offshore Palawan after acquiring Chevron’s 45 percent stake last year.

The MVP Group, for its part, is also eyeing the Shell Group’s 45 percent stake in Malampaya, which it wants to divest.

Aside from local firms, Cusi said foreign companies including Chinese exploration giants are also welcome to submit their respective proposals as oil exploration contracts do not have foreign restrictions.

The local companies are also expected to partner with foreign giants for technical capabilities, he said.

The source in the MVP Group said the group would await final guidelines from the government on how to proceed with exploration following the lifting of the moratorium.

In all, the lifting of the moratorium bodes well for the country’s economy and energy supply needs, Cusi said.

“What need is the stimulus for our economy now,” Cusi said.