Report: LNG projects in VIP to increase shipping traffic, add 387 vessel calls annually

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A sustainability think-tank’s new report forecasts that up to 387 vessel calls will be added annually to shipping traffic in Verde Island Passage (VIP) if all existing and proposed fossil gas plants in Batangas are to come online, raising alarm bells on the potential impacts it poses to what is dubbed as the “Amazon of the oceans.”

The Center of Energy, Ecology, and Development report scopes the potential shipping impacts to the VIP as it is now the epicenter of the fossil gas buildout in the country with eight gas-fired power plants, one commissioned LNG terminal, and eight more LNG terminals being proposed in Batangas.

“The VIP has long been under shipping pressure because of its strategic position in local and international ports. But the Philippine government’s push for gas and its vision of being an LNG Trading and Transshipment Hub of Asia-Pacific has swung open the floodgates for massive plans for gas and LNG in one of the most biodiverse underwater gems in the world. One cannot be alarmed at the VIP potentially buckling under the immense weight of fossil fuel activities on its waters,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of CEED.

As of 2022, a total of 76,226 vessel calls were recorded between Batangas, Mindoro, and Marinduque annually. Findings show that the number of vessel calls will increase further due to the forecasted increase of LNG tanker traffic that will deliver the projected LNG demand. Considering only the existing gas plants, up to 85 LNG tankers could be potentially added to annual figures.

By 2024, if the Batangas EERI Combined Cycle Power Plant U1, 2, 3, and 4 comes online as scheduled, up to 128 LNG tankers could be potentially added to annual figures. This figure could grow to 166 by 2027 if VIRES LNG-Fired Power Plant Barge and the ACEN-led BCE Natural Gas-Fired Power Plant come online as scheduled.

“The projections are gloomy: the center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity in the world will be turned into a conduit of dirty energy. Increased shipping traffic is only a glimpse of the threats from the LNG boom – it is also necessary that we look into the destructive activities attributed to this industry. The VIP and resident coastal communities will suffer from a plethora of potential impacts from pre-construction, construction, and operational phases of the massive gas boom,” said Father Edu Gariguez, Lead Convenor of Protect VIP, a coalition advocating for the protection of the Verde Island Passage.

The strategic position of Verde Island Passage connecting the South China Sea with Tayabas Bay and Sibuyan Sea places its importance on the shipping industry. Gariguez explained that they do not explicitly oppose VIP as a vital shipping route for transportation and trade of goods and resources, rather, emphasize the importance of balancing maritime activities to safeguard marine habitats and resources.

“The Philippines is blessed that we have rich marine resources, such as the VIP. We recognize the need for transportation services provided by the VIP as a vital shipping route. However, there should be a balance in using its waters for maritime activities and protecting its marine biodiversity. Our local and national government should have a thorough review of its shipping routes and ensure that ecologically valuable areas at the VIP should be avoided for maritime industries and no-go zones for LNG developments. Mega-diverse marine areas like the VIP should be under strict monitoring and protection, which is why we are also urging the government to expedite the declaration of VIP as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area System (ENIPAS) act,” added Gariguez.

According to the study by Climate Analytics, the Philippines must urgently phase out coal-fired power by 2035, and gas-fired generation by 2040 to be able to keep up with the 1.5˚C compatible emissions pathway.

“Although the fight for Verde Island Passage is a fight for global marine diversity, we are not merely advocating for the abolition of fossil fuels just for the sake of VIP alone, but for the bigger picture of our climate crisis. Fossil fuels have already been proven to be detrimental to our climate. The rapid development of fossil gas is hindering the pathway to achieving our 1.5˚C climate objectives. As we call on the Philippine government to safeguard the VIP by discontinuing fossil fuel operations, we also urge major financiers of fossil fuels in the country and across Southeast Asia to cease contributing to our worsening climate crisis and divest their funding from fossil gas,” concluded Arances.

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