The government approved the drilling of natural gas in Recto Bank area of the West Philippine Sea (WPS), which is expected to forcefully assert the sovereign rights of the country over the area that China claims part of its so-called nine-dash-line territory.

Granted an October 16, 2022, timeline to start drilling the Sampaguita gas find in the Recto Bank concession was Forum Energy Ltd., put up by PXP Energy Corp. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. for the purpose.

The two committed wells in Sampaguita is estimated to contain up to 4.6 trillion cubic feet of gas and 115 million barrels of oil. Forum will drill these resources under what is known as Service Contract 72. Sampaguita gas discovery is located 250 kilometers southwest of Malampaya, which is scheduled to run out of gas after years of use.

As government gave its go-signal, Surigao del Sur. Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chairman of the House Committee on Strategic Intelligence, said the slated deep-water drilling in the Sampaguita gas discovery is expected to forcefully assert the country’s sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.

“We are counting on Forum Energy’s offshore drilling in Sampaguita to demonstrate that the Philippines is determined to enforce its undivided rights over Recto Bank’s vast petroleum resources,” Pimentel said in a statement.

“In fact, this early, we want Forum to contract the drillship for Sampaguita,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel was responding to the results of a survey which showed that eight out of 10 Filipinos want the next president to champion the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea.

The poll indicated that 82 percent of Filipinos believe that the next administration should put into effect the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling affirming the Philippines’s rights over its exclusive economic zone that quashed China’s historic-rights claim.

“We have very high hopes the appraisal wells that will be drilled into Sampaguita’s world-class hydrocarbon deposits will successfully flow gas at rates deemed economically viable, just like the producing Malampaya field,” Pimentel said.

Under the law, Pimentel said “all of the government’s private petroleum service contractors, including Forum, are required to exert maximum efforts to discover and produce gas and/or oil as soon as possible.”

“We need Sampaguita developed right away to guarantee the country’s long-term energy security, considering that Malampaya will run out of gas by 2027,” Pimentel said.

The Forum has a 70-percent operating stake in Service Contract 72, which includes the Sampaguita gas find in the Recto Bank concession. It is projected to spend up to $3 billion (PHP150 billion) to develop Sampaguita, according to London-based Edison Investment Research Ltd.

“Deep-water drilling in the Sampaguita gas field in the Recto Bank is a bold move in asserting the country’s sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea,” Pimentel stressed.