(Adds jump in Philex Petroleum shares; official's comments)
By Erik dela Cruz and Manuel Mogato
MANILA, April 24 A Philippine exploration firm
has found more-than-expected natural gas in a disputed area of
the South China Sea, a discovery likely to inflame territorial
tensions with China.
Philex Petroleum Corp said in a disclosure to the
stock exchange on Tuesday that its u nit, Forum Energy Plc
, "is expected to show an improvement in the resources
previously known" in the Sampaguita gas discovery in the Reed
The area is claimed by both nations and last year Chinese
navy vessels tried to ram one of Forum Energy's survey ships
there, almost halting its research w o rk.
China has territorial disputes with the Philippines,
Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea,
and these nations are worried about what some see as growing
Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the sea's islands,
reefs and shoals.
The territorial disputes are pushing the Philippines to seek
closer cooperation with the United States, which has drawn
A 2006 study quoted by Forum Energy said the Sampaguita
field had a potential of up to 20 trillion cubic feet of natural
gas, or more than five times initial estimates.
Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said the findings could
support plans to build a multi-million dollar pipeline from the
area to Manila.
"If it's true and it's big, then hopefully the resources
will help us face the need for energy in the future," Almendras
said in an interview with local TV network ANC.
The Sampaguita gas field is near the Malampaya gas field,
with about 2.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and which
supplies fuel to three power plants for the main Luzon island
Philex Petroleum shares jumped 17.4 percent to a record high
after the disclosure in trading that was the heaviest in volume
since the company was listed last September.
The Philippines is locked in several disputes with China in
the South China Sea, and Manila is expected to award 15 oil and
gas exploration contracts for sites in the area in July. Two of
those sites are contested by China.
In recent weeks, Philippine and Chinese ships have faced off
near the Scarborough Shoal in waters believed to be rich in oil
Lieutenant-General Anthony Alcantara, commander of military
forces in the area, said a Philippine coast guard ship would
stay in the area to assert the country's sovereignty and protect
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China has warned that
friction with the Philippines could escalate into armed conflict
unless the United States helps rein in Manila.
While those threats do not amount to definitive government
policy, they underscore domestic pressures on Beijing to take a
stronger position against the Philippines and other claimants.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in BEIJING and Rosemarie
Francisco in MANILA; Editing by Miral Fahmy)