Malampaya gas field

[OPINION] Malampaya plus 15: A tale of the lesser evil

Vince Davidson Pacañot

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[OPINION] Malampaya plus 15: A tale of the lesser evil

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'There are irrefutable facts that we need to acknowledge and accept in spite of all the good things brought about by Malampaya'

A few days ago, something inevitable happened – the government decided to extend the service contract of Malampaya (SC 38) for another 15 years. This is the happy ending that the Malampaya Consortium desired after almost a decade of negotiations with different administrations. In effect, the country’s only domestic source of natural gas would continue providing energy even beyond its expected depletion date (2027). This also means that Luzon retains what is responsible for 20% of its electricity needs. At surface level, the extension is a success. But the reality is, there are more stories to be told about this engineering marvel. 

The good side

Three decades since the discovery of a large gas reserve along the northwestern part of Palawan, Malampaya has proven itself to be an invaluable asset to the country. Not only did it provide two-tenths of the energy requirements of the country, it also brought economic gains to the country, thanks to at least $13 billion in revenue that it has generated from the sales of natural gas since 2001. It also gave Filipino professionals a platform where they could display what Filipino brilliance is, with a 100% Filipino crew on the Malampaya platform. But apart from these, the Malampaya project is also responsible for some of these commendable programs: 

  • Coordinating with the local communities in Mindoro, Batangas, and Palawan to advance marine biodiversity conservation efforts in their respective areas;
  • Supporting the students living in the areas of Mindoro, Batangas, and Palawan through generous scholarship programs;
  • Enabling out-of-school youths and unemployed adults with industry skills to help them get employed; and 
  • Financing health programs in different communities to combat diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.

With the extension of SC 38, it can be expected that these programs will continue. Indeed, Malampaya is an invaluable asset to our country, a source of Filipino pride. However, not all good things are entirely good. There are irrefutable facts that we need to acknowledge and accept in spite of all the good things brought about by Malampaya. 

The bad side

First, natural gas is still a fossil fuel. Whatever rebranding the industry does to it, it is what it is – a dirty, destructive fossil fuel. The addiction of mankind to these nonrenewable energy resources have led us to the climate crisis that threatens our right to life; our right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. No less than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the premier scientific body on climate change, has categorically stated in its latest report that we will not be able to meet the 1.5℃ target of the Paris Agreement if we will not mitigate our emissions, especially from unabated existing fossil fuel infrastructures. This means that the extension of Malampaya is a gross contribution towards the 1.5℃ overshoot. 

And second, in line with the first point, such extension is not aligned with the country’s nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. It is clear in our initial submission in 2021 that we pledged to “reduce and avoid” the emissions of the country by 75% by 2030, wherein 2.71% of it will result from domestic efforts. How can we hold on to this pledge, when we’ve not only extended a natural gas service contract, but we’ve also started creating our own liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry? How can we keep our promises when we do not do anything about our existing coal infrastructures? Shouldn’t we become more aggressive in building a stronger renewable energy industry in this country? With SC 38 extension in effect, it will be difficult to achieve our national mitigation ambition, even the unconditional part alone. Our emissions will definitely continue rising through the burning of natural gas, in addition to coal and diesel from unabated existing infrastructures. 

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So, what now?

Our country emits only 0.3% of the total greenhouse gas emissions among countries globally. In fact, our emissions have only contributed 0.01℃ to the global mean surface temperature rise in 2021, unlike the United States and China which contributed 0.28℃ and 0.20℃, respectively. Is this enough to justify continuous fossil fuel expansion in the Philippines? Absolutely not. A commitment is still a commitment, to the climate treaties that the Philippines acceded to, and to the Filipinos and their right to a balanced and healthful ecology. 

On a personal note, the decision to extend the service contract of Malampaya is the “lesser evil” compared to promoting the expansion of the (imported) LNG industry in the country. Yes, we do not need another Malampaya, but we also most certainly do not need LNG facilities in this country, nor even nuclear power plants (at least for now). What we really need is more renewable energy infrastructures and stronger promotion of energy efficiency and conservation measures. What we really aim for is to succeed in just energy transition. 

I urge the Department of Energy to exert all efforts to boost the development of every form of renewable energy and implementation of other clean energy mechanisms in our country. I am highly optimistic that there will come a time when the Filipino people won’t be forced to settle with “lesser evil” options anymore but, rather, be served with nothing but the best option. I strongly believe that such aspirations will soon become our collective reality. –

Vince Davidson J. Pacañot is currently a climate policy research fellow and a graduate student studying the environmental sustainability of energy systems.

1 comment

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  1. RM

    Instead of seeing a black and white issue between fossil fuels (BAD) and renewables (GOOD), Rappler needs to dig deeper to truly understand the country’s energy mix and what that means for the transition it needs to undergo to truly become carbon neutral. Based on DoE latest published stats for 2021, 2/3 of the country’s energy was provided by fossil fuels. Of this, 32% was from coal, 30% from oil products and 5% from natural gas. But not all fossil fuels are equal in carbon generation: coal generates 200 lbs/MMBtu (million BTU’s), oil around 160 and natural gas about 117.

    Of the 1/3 of non-fossil fuels in our energy mix, 16% is from geothermal, 13% from biomass (which actually generates more carbon emissions than coal!) and 4% hydroelectric. The two clean renewables that you want us to switch to right away, solar and wind, only contributed a combined 0.4%.

    Can you then imagine the amount of investment needed to replace all the fossil fuels with carbon-free energy sources? Assuming the funds were available, which they are not, it would still take decades to truly move to a carbon-neutral future.

    In the meantime, we have to accept that we will need to rely on those nasty fossil fuels. But what we can do, and which is why we do need an LNG industry to replace and expand on what Malampaya started, is to replace the nastiest fossil fuel (coal) with the cleaner natural gas or LNG.

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