[New Reports] Fossil gas: A bane for the environment

On the occasion of World Environment Day and ahead World Oceans Day, church, fisherfolk, and environmental groups raised concern over ecological impacts of massive development of fossil gas power in the Philippines, especially in marine biodiversity hotspot Verde Island Passage (VIP), and demanded a thorough rethink of plans to increase reliance on fossil gas nationally.

    The call is backed by findings of studies produced by think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) and Caritas Philippines (CBCP-NASSA) on the quality and marine ecology of waters along an existing 1,200 MW gas-fired power plant and two new gas projects in Barangay Ilijan in Batangas Bay – a liquefied natural gas (LNG terminal of Linseed Field Power Corporation and Atlantic Gulf & Pacific Co., and a new 1,750 MW power plant of a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) Global Power. The groups, together with Bukluran ng Mangingisda ng Batangas (BMB), hail under the banner of the Protect Verde Island Passage (Protect VIP) Campaign network.

    “As we celebrate the bounty of nature and all the good we receive from it, we also raise alarm against an industry seeking to impose environmental destruction even as a climate and ecological crisis already rages: fossil gas. We are in solidarity with communities that are already or set to be impacted by it, and we stand firm in our commitment to fight dirty energy and care for this earth we call home,” said Fr. Tony Labiao, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines, the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

    The studies’ water quality analysis showed that the presence of key pollutants and heavy metals such as phosphates, chromium, copper, lead and others have reached alarming levels from exposure to industrial activities. Marine ecology findings, meanwhile, show that while less fish biodiversity and fish abundance is present in the waters next to the project sites compared to the rest of the VIP due to stressors, fish biomass remains high. Existing biodiversity in the Linseed-AG&P and SMC project sites, however, have already been subjected to destruction from construction operations.

    “May malinaw na epekto ang industriyang ito sa yamang dagat natin at sa maraming komunidad, lalo ng ang mga mangingisda na tuluyan nang nauubos ang mga nahuhuli. Nangangamba kami na hindi lamang sa Batangas ito mangyayari, kung hindi sa kalakhan ng Verde Island Passage. Kung maaari naman tayong makakuha ng kuryente mula sa malinis na renewable energy, bakit tayo aasa pa sa mapanirang fossil gas?” asked Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP and Social Action Director of the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan.

    Verde Island Passage is a marine biodiversity hotspot known as the center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity in the world, housing 60% of all known shore fish species and thousands of other species. It is, however, also the epicenter of fossil gas projects in the Philippines, a fossil fuel falsely touted as a clean alternative to coal. 5 of 6 existing gas fired power plants, 8 planned new LNG and fossil gas plants, and 7 new LNG terminals are intended to be built here. This is but a portion of the 29.9 GW fossil gas power and 9 LNG terminals in the national pipeline.

    “Fossil gas is a bane for the environment. What we see and will see happening in VIP will be mirrored in communities host to fossil gas projects across the country. The gas industry has been peddling lies of its ability to provide cheap, clean, and reliable electricity. All-time high gas prices today prove this is not true, and the glimpse we get to see today of the environmental destruction it can cause prove that it is simply unwise to go for fossil gas expansion. Unfortunately, this is the direction our next government seems intent on taking – and this calls for a thorough rethinking,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of CEED.

Earlier in the day, the groups, led by Bukluran ng Mangingisda ng Batangas (BMB), filed a letter request at the main office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) urging the department to declare the waters of VIP surrounding the SMC, Linseed-AG&P, and existing gas power plant project sites as a ‘non-attainment area’ where “specific pollutants from either natural or man-made source have already exceeded water quality guidelines” where no new sources of the exceeded pollutants should be allowed to be established.

    “Kami po ay sumusulat sa inyong butihing opisina para sa kapakanan ng mga miyembro ng BMB, mangingisda at lahat ng mga komunidad na nakadepende ang mga kabuhayan at pagkain sa VIP. Kami po ay tumutugon…para po sa inyong agarang aksyon at para ideklara ang VIP at mga karatig na lugar kagaya ng Batangas Bay East, Verde Island Passage, at mga tubig na nakapalibot dito bilang non-attainment area/s para sa mga lumampas na pollutants sa ilalim ng Philippine Clean Water Act. Kailangang maiwasan ang higit pang pagtaas ng nasabing mga pollutant sa isang mahalagang anyong tubig,” wrote the groups, led by Bukluran ng Mangingisda ng Batangas (BMB) Chairperson Tomas Buitizon.