Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Exploring for Oil Starts With Sounding for Oil, Not Drilling for Oil

There is a very simple reason why the whole process of oil exploration does not begin with drilling for oil but rather with sounding for oil. Drilling an undersea oil well is an expensive and tricky operation and is only done after exhaustive seismic and geological studies have pinpointed the most likely sites where test holes can be drilled to find out for sure. Exploring for oil always begins with seismic studies of the submarine, subterranean geology. Using computer-based data acquisition systems and sophisticated image reconstruction algorithms and pattern recognition systems, geologists (like Eduardo Manalac!) can make highly detailed pictures of the undersea, underground geology of an area and then to identify the most likely place to then begin test drilling to find out for sure.

So much for the Palace's claim that the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in the disputed area of the Spratly Islands, between China, Philippines and Vietnam was not yet oil exploration, but only "pre-exploration."

Ricky Carandang (ABSCBN News) reports that the Chinese signatories to the Spratley deal in 2005 certainly called it exploration! He points readers of his blog to two articles in the Chinese press pertinent to the Spratly controversy, and a posting on the website of the Chinese National Offshore Oil Co.

China Daily August 28, 2005
China, Philippines Vietnam begin research in the South China Sea
The COS won the two-dimensional seismic exploration project in the bidding jointly organized by the national oil companies of China, the Philippines and Vietnam during Aug. 8-12, for its excellent market analysis and bidding strategy, the company said.
China Daily November 17, 2005
First phase of joint marine survey complete
"Since the beginning of the joint undertaking, the three governments of China, the Philippines and Viet Nam have given great support to three state-owned oil companies in the exploration partnership, and the project has proceeded smoothly," CNOOC said in a statement.
Well so much for the claim that the President did not authorize EXPLORATION contrary to the following 1987 provision on the National Patrimony:

The President may enter into agreements with foreign-owned corporations involving either technical or financial assistance for large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, petroleum, and other mineral oils according to the general terms and conditions provided by law, based on real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country. In such agreements, the State shall promote the development and use of local scientific and technical resources.

The President shall notify the Congress of every contract entered into in accordance with this provision, within thirty days from its execution.

President Arroyo apparently never informed Congress of the exploration activity she had authorized through Eduardo Manalac and the Philippine National Oil Co.

People's Daily (via Helmholz) November 20, 2005
Next, here is a report on the celebration ceremony held in a Batangas port on the Chinese "exploration ship" [Nanhai 502]. EDUARDO MANALAC is quoted in this People's Daily article which also mentions the fact that a Chinese firm, China Oilfield Services conducted the seismic data acquisition after winning in a "competitive bidding," whilst a Vietnamese firm got the data processing and the Filipinos got the "data interpretation" contract.
China, Philippines and Vietnam conclude seismic data acquisition of South China Sea (People’s Daily, 2005-11-20)

With a Chinese exploration ship docked in Batangas, the Philippines, energy companies of China, the Philippines and Vietnam on Saturday celebrated the completion of seismic data acquisition in the South China Sea, witnessing the first milestone of international joint efforts to uncover energy resources in the region.

The seismic data acquisition, an initial work to detect geological structures of the seabed in one part of the South China Sea, was conducted by China Oilfield Services Limited (COSL) with its exploration ship codenamed Nanhai 502.

The ship accomplished the mission on Nov. 16, within only 75 days after it started the journey from Guangdong province of China, Li Xunke, vice-president of COSL told Xinhua. "Our process has been much faster than the given period of eight months," Li added.

There were 11,000 kilometers of sensor cable deployed on the seabed in this mission, covering an area of around 140,000 square kilometers, Li said, the data were collected smoothly and are ready to be processed and analyzed.

"Mutual respect and trust between the three countries guaranteed the milestone development of joint exploration in the South China Sea," said Zhu Weilin, vice- president of China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the parent company of COSL.

The CNOOC is confident for the future cooperation with its Philippine and Vietnamese counterparts, hoping to bring peace and prosperity to the South China Sea, Zhu noted in his speech at the ceremony held on a dock at PNOC energy supply base in Batangas, 130 kilometers south to Manila.

Political tensions surrounding the South China Sea in the 1990s were history, said Eduardo Manalac, president of Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) Exploration Corporation, adding that the current arrangement concerning the energy resources in the region is a win-win deal, which is a good solution to different opinions among "our Asian brothers in one family."

Meanwhile, PNOC expressed its expectation that the data collected by Nanhai 502 will be highly reliable. Manalac said the three governments' commitment to establish one team among China, the Philippines and Vietnam proved to be very successful and that open communication and discussion were seen in every stage of the joint efforts.

PetroVietnam, the Vietnamese partner in the joint exploration responsible for processing the collected data, also sent a written congratulation message to the CNOOC and PNOC at the ceremony.

The crew members onboard Nanhai 502 were praised and congratulated by the representatives from CNOOC, PNOC and PetroVietnam. Good-will toasts were everywhere during the ceremony. CNOOC, PNOC and PetroVietnam signed an agreement in March to conduct seismic work programs in part of their politically disputed area of the South China Sea, setting off explosions to monitor the shock waves to uncover data of possible oil and gas reserves. COSL won the contract for data acquisition with a competitive bid in August, thereafter Vietnamese and Philippine companies got the contracts for data processing and interpretation respectively. All three stages of the cooperation are subject to mutual supervision and consultation, according to the joint agreement.

The Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China was signed during Philippine President Arroyo's visit to China in 2004. The agreement provides for a framework for conducting cooperative research by PNOC and CNOOC in certain areas in the South China Sea. Vietnam also became a party of the joint mechanism later on.
I think the most intriguing factual mystery now would be: what exactly were the results of the seismic "study" -- what with the price of a barrel of oil at all time record highs. Since the Philippines reportedly performed the "data interpretation" what did all that 2D and 3D seismic profiling of the undersea bed beneath the Spratlys reveal?

Is there oil or gas in the Spratlys?

And what is a high level Chinese Communist Party delegation doing in Manila? Investigating charges of corruption against one of its largest telecommunications companies (ZTE)? Coordinating with Malacanang Palace to contain what could become an international cause celebre?

References: The primary documents involving the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking have been uploaded to the US Internet Archive for safekeeping in the public domain.

to a swift text response from Ricky Carandang I can point several emailers to the authoritative answer to your question Who was the Filipino Explorer who "discovered" Kalayaan Islands group in 1956. Admiral Tomas Cloma

1 comment:

blackshama said...

Joint scientific exploration of the Spratly islands have been done by our scientists with Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts. But these were conducted by the scientific organizations and authorities of the countries involved.

Things are different when you have oil companies doing that. The usual scientific practice of data sharing may not be applicable.

No amount of legal hairsplitting of words can untangle the mess the Gloria administration has got itself in.