Natural Gas in the Philippines

The world is clamoring for a cleaner future. How can the PH keep up?

Published 11:44 AM, January 22, 2019

Illustrations by Raffy de Guzman

The global movement to save the planet has never been more aggressive now than when the Paris Agreement was drafted in 2015 and succeeding agreements have been ratified and executed.

Individuals are now ditching plastic straws, urging even the biggest food establishments to do the same. Climate warriors and their call to adopt a zero waste lifestyle have gone mainstream. Disturbing images of plastics living among ocean creatures are all over social media and on the cover of a magazine.

And this is not only happening abroad. The movement is very much felt in the Philippines. Cities like Makati and Mandaluyong have banned the use of plastics. Local food establishments and coffee shops are also starting to provide straws only to those who would ask for it.

Despite this outrage against plastic pollution, some would still argue: is this enough to help the environment? Is our refusal to use plastic straws making a dent?

What about other pressing environmental issues, such as climate change and its significant impact on both the environment and human life? While plastic straws pollute the seas, climate change contributes to increasing sea levels, threatening us with floods and more intense weather occurrences.

Surely, there is something more that we can do.

From ditching plastics to opting for a cleaner source of energy

While plastic pollution is taking all the punches, coal, one of the major culprits for climate change, seems to sit comfortably in its throne – for now. It’s still a main source of energy for many countries and, in the Philippines, still makes up 50% of the energy mix.

Philippines' Energy Mix

Source: Department of Energy 2017 Power Statistics

But as individuals, corporations, businesses, and the government are becoming more informed of the options available to us, the future is looking less and less dependent on coal.

Similar to countries like Japan, India, and Germany, the Philippines is transitioning to cleaner energy sources—one of which is natural gas.

Aside from being much cleaner than coal, natural gas is also more efficient in producing energy to match demand and generates electricity at very competitive rates.

Natural gas is not new. There are five natural gas plants in the Philippines, three of which have been here for almost 20 years – First Gen’s Santa Rita and San Lorenzo plants and the Ilijan plant. They are all located in Batangas, supporting communities and powering millions of households and businesses.

How crucial is natural gas? Well, in 2017, gas-fired power plants provided 22% of the country’s total power demand and accounted for 30% of power in the main region of Luzon.

Moreover, as the country transitions to more solar and wind, flexible and quick-reacting natural gas plants will be crucial in keeping the lights on at times when there is not enough sunlight or sufficient wind speed.

Simply put, for the country to truly head towards a renewable future, it must also continue the use of natural gas to help get us there.

What’s next for natural gas in the Philippines?

As we transition to a cleaner future, the demand for natural gas will also increase. Right now, Malampaya is the only sizeable source of natural gas in the Philippines. Malampaya’s gas fields, however, are only expected to hold until the mid 2020’s – that’s just a few years from now.

The government and other stakeholders recognize the need to look for alternative sources soon. This is why there have been talks about turning the Philippines into a hub for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

LNG is natural gas turned into liquid form so it can be stored and transported—particularly for long distances—without the use of pipelines. LNG is 600 times smaller in volume than its gaseous state and, upon arrival, can be turned back into gaseous form for use of power plants.

An LNG Re-gasification Terminal can receive LNG from exporting countries across the globe, turn it back into gaseous form, and then send it to the power plants that can now use it to generate electricity in the same way they use natural gas from Malampaya today. Because it is more portable in its liquid form, the Philippines can also distribute LNG across the country and use it for other applications such as fuel for transportation.

Local and foreign organizations including First Gen are pushing to spearhead the LNG Terminal because it’s the most viable source of natural gas post-Malampaya. While there may potentially be other fields like the Reed Bank, territorial disputes with China and factors like time, cost, and effort would make exploration an arduous task. Other fields that have been discovered so far do not have the volumes of gas required by the industry.

Why is LNG important?

Globally, LNG trade is booming. Countries like the US, Australia, Japan, China, and India are among the main players in this growing industry. Countries like the US and Australia are increasing their capacity to export LNG, while others like China and India are increasing their imports of the product. Japan also remains one of the largest importers of LNG, using it as a crucial fuel source for their country. Particularly because of our location, the Philippines is in a good position to capitalize on this global trade and benefit from this competitive liquid market.

So, go ahead and ditch that plastic straw, carry a reusable bag when you shop for groceries, but don’t forget to go bigger. And the only way to do that is by pushing for a change that will make a huge impact – clamor for less reliance on coal and more dependence on cleaner energy options, such as natural gas and, in the future, LNG.

Through this, we can truly transition to a cleaner future.