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Climate and Environment

Gas expansion around Verde Island Passage increases risk of another oil spill — groups

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Gas expansion around Verde Island Passage increases risk of another oil spill â groups
Traces of slick from the oil leaked by MT Princess Empress are visible on the shore of Pola in Oriental Mindoro.
Philstar.com/EC Toledo IV

CALAPAN, Oriental Mindoro — The influx of liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in Batangas increases the possibility of another oil spill threatening the extremely rich but already fragile Verde Island Passage (VIP), environment advocates warned as they called on the government to strengthen the protection afforded to the marine corridor. 

Authorities are scrambling to contain the oil spilling from sunken MT Princess Empress off the coast of Oriental Mindoro, which is disrupting the way of life of local communities and threatening the area’s marine biodiversity. 

“From an interconnectivity approach, where ecosystems depend on each other, the impacts that are being felt in Oriental Mindoro can greatly affect the ecosystems across Verde Island Passage. If these areas across VIP were to be damaged by the extensive impacts of the oil spills, fisheries in other areas will feel the impacts as well,” said Ivan Andres, Center for Energy, Environment and Development's (CEED) Oceans, Coastal Communities, and Climate Program Lead.

Oriental Mindoro is one of the five provinces surrounding VIP, one of the most biodiverse marine habitats in the world. It is home to over 1,700 fish species, 300 coral species and 36 marine protected areas. 

But the country’s gas expansion is seen to exacerbate the threats faced by VIP. Five of the country’s existing gas plants are found in Batangas City, while one is in Cebu. Batangas is also the site of eight proposed gas plants and seven planned LNG terminals. 

“As the government continues to embrace fossil gas as the solution to the energy crisis, the more and bigger vessels transporting liquefied natural gas will ply the VIP area,” CEED executive director Gerry Arances told Philstar.com

According to 2022 study by CEED, the transportation of fossil gas will increase the risks of water pollution, underwater noise pollution, sedimentation, grounding of reefs, ship strikes and damage to smaller vessels. 

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of the Protect VIP campaign network, warned the more shipping vessels pass through the marine corridor, the higher the chances another oil spill will occur. 

“How many more ships need to be sunk for the government to see that it’s too much?” Gariguez told Philstar.com

SPECIAL REPORTFossil gas expansion in Batangas seen to threaten marine corridor, coastal folk

LNG expansion

The Philippines is scaling up the development of infrastructure that will support the import of LNG in anticipation of the depletion of Malampaya deep water gas-to-power project.

The Department of Energy is aiming to transform the country into a leading LNG hub in Asia. 

In his first State of the Nation Address, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. called on Congress to enact a law seeking to foster the midstream natural gas industry “by diversifying the country’s primary sources of energy and promoting the role of natural gas as a complementary fuel to variable renewable energy.”

Natural gas has been pitched as a “bridge fuel” that can help the shift to a low-carbon economy. Climate and energy campaigners, however, noted that fossil gas produces potent greenhouse gas methane, blocks the transition to cleaner and cheaper sources of energy, and threatens host communities.

“The fossil gas industry is a ticking bomb in terms of environmental destruction it can bring and which spills over to the livelihood, health, and daily lives of the people,” Arances said. 

Protection for VIP

Environmental groups are calling for accountability from RDC Reield Marine Services, which owns the sunken tanker, and from the still unidentified owner of the leaked industrial oil.

They are also urging the government to strengthen the protection of VIP, and review laws such as the Oil Pollution Compensation Act of 2007 and the Philippine Clean Water of 2004. 

“It is unthinkable that in the midst of this environmental nightmare on top of the climate threats the VIP is facing, it is left exposed and vulnerable with no legal protection whatsoever,” Arances said. 

Pola Mayor Jennifer Cruz told Philstar.com that the Philippine Coast Guard should strictly monitor the vessels that pass through VIP. The town of Pola is the most affected by the oil spill incident.

“Large vessels similar to the sunken tanker should not be allowed to pass through VIP if they are not responsible owners,” she said. 

For Gariguez, the government should stop plans for LNG expansion in Batangas to prevent adverse impacts on VIP and the lives of two million people who rely on the conservation corridor.

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Editor's note: The trip to Oriental Mindoro was hosted by Protect VIP Network (represented by Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development). At no stage does the host organization have a say in the stories generated from the coverage, interviews conducted, publication date and story treatment. Content is produced solely by Philstar.com following editorial guidelines.

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

ORIENTAL MINDORO OIL SPILL

VERDE ISLAND PASSAGE

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