Philippines: LNG Boom in the Verde Island Passage
Gas companies want to turn the Verde Island Passage into an LNG hub. By zooming in, you can recognise the site of an existing gas power plant, next to which AG&P is building its LNG facility.
Fossil companies are on track to turn Batangas in the Philippines into an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) import hub for Southeast Asia.12167 Together with the Philippine government, they are preparing a massive rollout of LNG terminals and power plants.12169 To realize their plans, the companies are willing to sacrifice the Philippines’ precious ocean life and the people who depend on it.12171 Their LNG plans are a slap in the face for Filipinos whose land is already being swallowed by the rising seas.12173
LNG is fossil methane gas in a liquid state. Gas producers cool methane gas down to -162° when the gas turns into liquid. As LNG, the companies can ship the methane all over the world.12175 LNG-importing countries need special terminals to receive the LNG and turn it back into gas. Only then can they burn it in power plants to generate electricity.12177
In 2021, the Philippines did not have a single operating LNG facility.12181 However, gas and power companies and the Philippine government want to make LNG a central energy source for the island state.1217912183 The plans to build at least 6 LNG terminals and 27 gas-fired power plants are already on the table. 1218512187 The first LNG terminal of the Philippines is due to start operating in 2023. 14309 Currently, many of the LNG projects in the Philippines face major delays. 14311 All of the projects will rely on imported LNG.12191
LNG in the Amazon of the Oceans
The energy companies and the Philippine government plan most of the LNG projects in the Batangas region. 12193 Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Company (AG&P) has already begun clearing the area where they want to construct their LNG terminal. 14333 The area is part of the Verde Island Passage (VIP). 12197 The Verde Island Passage is a marine strait between Batangas and the island of Mindoro. It lies within the Coral Triangle, the richest area of marine life on Earth.12275 The Verde Island Passage is "the center of the center" of this marine biodiversity paradise.14313
Many people refer to the Verde Island Passage as the “Amazon of the oceans”.12203 Its waters have the highest known concentration of marine life on Earth. Vast coral reefs and rock canyons cover the seafloor. Endangered red fin wrasses and whale sharks, enormous sea turtles and numerous other ocean animals swim along the colorful coral mounts. 12205 In 2005, scientists counted 1736 marine species in an area of 100 square kilometers (38.6 square miles).14315 Still, scientists keep discovering new animal species every year. 1220912211 The Verde Island Passage is so rich in biodiversity that it is a “genetic storehouse” for damaged marine ecosystems across the Philippines and the Coral Triangle.12213 From there, larvae of corals, fish and other species flush out to other reefs, settle there and help revitalize them. 1221512217
Of all places, fossil companies have chosen this epicenter of marine biodiversity for their LNG boom. For their LNG terminal, the Philippine company AG&P is building jetties and moorings into the Verde Island Passage. They are also putting up a network of tanks, pipelines, pumps and compressors on the shore.12219 The operation and expansion of these LNG facilities will worsen the water quality and put the ecosystems of the Verde Island Passage at risk.14317 Construction noise threatens to chase fish swarms away. Also, sand and mud from the construction work pollute the clear waters of the Verde Island Passage.12221 These dirt clouds can suffocate coral polyps, the tiny animals that build up coral reefs.12223
At their LNG terminals, AG&P and other operators want to use seawater to heat up and regasify the cold LNG. Afterwards, they would pump the used water back into the ocean. The regasification process cools down the used water and makes it a few degrees colder than the rest of the seawater.12225 For the corals, this could be deadly. Already the slightest change in seawater temperature can stop the growth of coral polyps and damage the reefs.12227 These reefs are one small part of a complex ecosystem. Ultimately, any damage to the underwater world threatens the animals that live in and from the reefs, and the people who depend on them.12229
The LNG terminals would turn parts of Batangas Bay into an exclusive zone for the fossil fuel industry. Already now, fisherfolk are catching less fish than ever before. Industrial development, climate change, and unsustainable tourism have diminished the marine wildlife that people in Batangas depend on to earn a living. Local fishermen worry that the aggressive expansion of LNG facilities will make the situation even worse.14319 The fisherfolk would no longer be allowed to enter some of their local fishing grounds. Instead, gigantic LNG carriers would dominate the waters of the Verde Island Passage.12231
Along with the LNG carriers comes an increased risk of accidents. AG&P and the other LNG companies cannot rule out toxic leaks and spills from their carriers and terminals.12233 The worst oil spill in Philippine history showed the dangers of ship accidents and spills for the marine wildlife of the Philippines. In 2006, an oil tanker sank near the island of Guimaras and leaked oil into the ocean. A large part of the birds and fish that lived around the island died and disappeared. This put an end to the livelihood of more than 20,000 fishermen.12235 If the LNG companies’ plans go forward, the corals, fish, birds and coastal people of the Verde Island Passage could be next.
Already during the construction phase, LNG companies are proving that they do not take environmental regulations seriously. AG&P began constructing its LNG facility in Batangas even though it did not have the necessary permits. When the Philippine authorities found out, they ordered AG&P to stop construction immediately. To protect the VIP from more harm, local fisher groups, religious groups and environmental organizations have filed a complaint that challenges AG&P’s certificate for its LNG project.14811
A Costly Development for the Philippine People
A massive LNG rollout is the last thing the Philippines needs. Climate change is already a heavy burden for the island state.12237 Over the period from 2000 to 2019, the Philippines was among the top four countries hit hardest by climate change.12239 Rising sea levels are pushing the ocean into Philippine cities.1224112243 Harder and more often than ever before, typhoons rage across the island nation.12245 They wreck coral reefs, erode the coastlines, flood villages, and drown people in their sleep.1225112247 In December 2021, the super typhoon Rai killed more than 400 people and wrecked more than 535,000 houses.1432114323 At the same time, the seawater is heating up and becoming more acidic.12257 For corals, fish and other marine animals which thrive in a stable marine environment, climate change is already a severe threat.12259 The Philippines cannot afford more stress in form of LNG carriers, terminals and power plants.
The Philippine people would have to shoulder the costly burdens of LNG despite paying some of the highest electricity prices in Asia.12263 The skyrocketing prices of LNG would worsen the already difficult situation most power suppliers will pass rising fuel costs on to the electricity consumers. This would leave the electricity bills of Philippine households at the mercy of international fossil fuel markets.12265 Global gas prices are so high that many Philippine LNG projects may not materialize at all.14325 At the same time, the Philippines are accelerating its shift towards renewable energy.14327 Both of these factors increase the already doubtful risk profile of Philippine LNG projects.14329 14331
“Pursuing these fossil gas projects is planting illness at the very heart of a global epicentre for marine biodiversity in the world. Life in the Verde Island Passage must continue thriving to sustain the millions of Filipinos who rely on it for food and to make a living,”
Edwin Gariguez, environmental activist and lead convenor of the campaign Protect VIP.12273
Philippine communities, activists and organizations have successfully pushed the Philippine government to drop their coal expansion plans.12267 Now, environmental organizations, climate activists, fisher organizations, and religious groups are on the move to stop the next fossil project: LNG. Together, they are pushing fossil companies and financial institutions to stay away from dirty and dangerous LNG in the Philippines. It is not too late to stop the LNG boom and save the “Amazon of the oceans”.1226912271
Groups working on Philippines LNG: Protect VIP, Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) Philippines, Power for People Coalition, Greenpeace SEA, Caritas Philippines, Laudato Si Movement Philippines, Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), Green Convergence, Diocese of San Carlos, Lipa Archdiocesan Social Action Center (LASAC), Ilijan Community Development Foundation, Inc., National Anti-Poverty Commission NAPC, Archdiocesan Ministry on Environment, Inc. (AMEN), Bukluran ng Mangingisda ng Batangas (BMB), ECOSILAK - Youth for VIP, Konsyumer Negros, Youth for Climate Hope (Y4CH)