Philex eyes Chinese partner in Recto Bank

By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 08 2012 07:16 AM | Updated as of May 08 2012 09:27 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The group of businessman Manuel Pangilinan is negotiating with one of China’s biggest firms for possible oil and gas exploration in Recto Bank, which is near the disputed Spratly Islands.

Highly placed sources said Pangilinan flew to Beijing a few days ago to meet with officials of the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. for a possible joint venture in Recto Bank in Western Palawan. CNOOC is China’s biggest offshore oil and gas producer.

The Pangilinan-led Philex Petroleum is also in talks with other foreign oil industry giants for the development of the resource-rich Recto Bank. Sources also said prospects for a China project are high for Philex-controlled Forum Energy Plc.

They also said possible joint ventures in mining were also discussed in the Beijing meeting.

The negotiations for a possible joint gas exploration in Recto Bank came amid a standoff at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, involving Philippines and Chinese vessels.

“We are talking about billions of dollars (of investments). You will need an international major. They have the expertise and the marketing power to place the gas,” Pangilinan, Philex chairman, earlier said. “We have talked to a number.”

Forum Energy, a United Kingdom-based oil and gas firm, is doing exploration on Recto Bank under Service Contract 72. When asked earlier if his group was willing to deal with China despite the latter’s incursion into Philippine territory, Pangilinan said: “That is a solution. I think we should be talking to Chinese companies.”

Forum Energy said it needs around $75 million to continue with its drilling in Recto Bank, which showed a potential of producing 16.6 trillion cubic feet of gas.

“You will have to go to a consortium...It could be one or more oil companies that could get involved,” Pangilinan said.

The estimated gas yield in Recto Bank is way above the 3.4 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Malampaya natural gas project in Palawan.

Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras earlier said resources in the Recto Bank could last for about 100 years.

The project covers some 8,800 square kilometers off West Palawan.

The second phase of the SC 72 drilling will start before June.

“We would like to stick to the work program and schedule. We would like to be able to build the resources as soon as possible,” Pangilinan said.

He said delays might occur due to tensions between the Philippines and China.

The rigs and survey ships are owned by other countries, many of which prefer not to be involved in territorial disputes in the region.

Pangilinan said it would take six to 10 years to develop the area.

Philex Petroleum, which went public in September, is a subsidiary of Philex Mining Corp., the country’s largest mining firm.