Last update 7/5/2011 4:06:00 PM (GMT+7)

Philippines to grant more permits to oil firms in East Sea

VietNamNet Bridge - The Philippines said it would grant more permits to private firms to search for oil and natural gas in the East Sea, where it has a simmering territorial dispute with China.

A total of 15 exploration contracts will be offered today for mostly offshore prospects off the western island of Palawan, the energy department said in a statement.

The government ministry did not give details beyond saying the blocks would include East Palawan – an undersea section of the East Sea – as well as Northwest Palawan and the Sulu Sea basins.

“The contracting round is expected to attract investments in oil and gas exploration activities which will contribute to the realisation of the country’s energy self-sufficiency level target of 60 percent,” it said.

“Independent and large-scale international exploration companies... have already expressed their interest to tender their bid in the various blocks,” it added.

The scheduled tenders come amid increasingly assertive insistence by China on its territorial claims over most of the East Sea.

Earlier, Chinese state media reported that a massive deepwater oil platform, Marine Oil 981, would be deployed to the East Sea in July.

The deployment of the semi-submersible platform comes as tensions rise in the hotly contested East Sea. Shortly after China announced the completion of the platform -- which took more than three years to build and cost more than $900 million -- Philippine officials voiced concern and asked China where it was sending the oil platform.

Chinese state media say the oil rig is 114 m long, 140 m high and weighs 31,000 t. According to China State Shipbuilding Company, the deepwater platform is capable of drilling in waters up to 3,000 m deep, and of using a drill that goes as deep as 12,000 m.

Chinese energy officials say the oil rig is strategically significant and will help China boost its deepwater oil drilling capability. Engineers tell Chinese state media that the rig is specially designed to operate in the rough waters of the East Sea.