Fishermen Asked Australia To Stop Oil Exploration in Bohol-Cebu Seas

An alliance of small fishermen is appealing the Australian government to stop offshore mining firm NorAsian Energy Ltd. from pursuing its oil exploration in the Bohol-Cebu Strait.

In a letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia last Friday, the small fisherfolks organization Pamalakaya, said the Australian government should issue a cease and desist order to NorAsian to stop its oil and gas exploration here as it will have a "devastating impact" on fish production not only in Bohol and Cebu but other provinces who are dependent on the abundant fish supply of the Visayan basin.

According to Pamalakaya data, there are about 100,000 small fishermen to be affected by the oil and gas exploration in Bohol, Cebu and Leyte. These fishermen also have 500,000 dependents.

Bohol and Cebu harvests some 205,000 metric tons of fish a year which will be affected with the scheduled drilling this year off the Cabilao and Argao prospects.

A seismic survey will also be undertaken by NorAsian in offshore northern Bohol covering the Danajon Bank, a protected marine sanctuary that lies in between Bohol, Cebu and Leyte. The oil exploration in the area will be done for a period of 7 years.

According to Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap, the ambitious offshore mining contracted by NorAsian will cover some 445,000 hectares of ecologically diverse marine waters.

"We believe [this] is nothing but an all-out destruction of people's resources and at the same time, an assault to the Filipino people's patrimony and sovereign rights," Hicap said.

NorAsian is a wholly owned subsidiary of Otto Energy Ltd. of Australia which has clinched the offshore mining service contracts in partnership with Filipino partner Trans Asia Oil and Energy Development Corporation.

Last year, NorAsian acquired 146 square kilometers of 3D seismic data over two prospects in Service Contract 51. It said Area 8 (north of Bohol) of Service Contract 69 offers significant follow-up potential in additional structures if initial drilling in Service Contract 51 is successful.

NorAsia said Service Contract 69 has approximately 3,000 kilometers of existing 2D seismic and an active petroleum system as shown by the abundant onshore oil seeps and seismic supported direct hydrocarbon indicators on prospects in the area.

"On top of this so-called potential rich deposits of oil and gas reserves in the area is the socio-economic reality that the offshore mining to be conducted by NorAsian and its Filipino partner company poses extreme danger to the Philippine marine environment, and in particular, the East Visayan Sea, which is the center of marine biodiversity in the Philippines and Southeast Asia," Hicap added.

The fishermen's group told the Australian prime minister that the offshore mining in Bohol and Cebu "will pave way for the systematic gross destruction of the marine environment and affect their livelihood."