Offshore oil and gas expansion is looming over the world’s most diverse marine ecosystem

A different course can be charted for the Coral Triangle

Boracay Island Philippines
Boracay Island Philippines by len4photo
Kayangan Lake in Coron Island, Philippines
Kayangan Lake in Coron Island, Philippines by Andre Khrobostov
A reef in Tubbataha, Philippines
A reef in Tubbataha, Philippines by seachick51

World Oceans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the vital role marine ecosystems play in supporting life on Earth. From regulating the climate and serving as the largest source of oxygen on the planet to supporting a vast array of biodiversity and millions of peoples’ livelihoods, the oceans are a true gift to humanity and future generations.

A recent Oceana study found that stopping the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling along with other ocean-based solutions can contribute nearly 40% of the emission reductions needed to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Despite this need, offshore oil and gas expansion is accelerating — fuelled in part by too-easy to access to capital and rising energy costs. In fact, it is estimated that the offshore oil and gas sector is set for the highest growth in a decade in the next two years, with $214 billion of new project investments lined up reversing a decade of decline, and growing faster than onshore investment.

With energy demand expected to triple in Southeast Asia by 2050 while funding and policy alignment on decarbonization goals are moving at a slow pace, it is forecasted that the region will continue to rely on fossil fuels in the near term. In fact, it is estimated that a massive 138 GW of new gas-fired power plants and 118 liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals are being proposed or already being built in the area. This growth in fossil energy demand is leading to a regional fossil fuel boom, accelerating the already significant climate and pollution risks to some of the most fragile and biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet.

The Coral Triangle: A hotspot in more ways than one

World’s epicentre of marine biodiversity faces fossil fuel expansion

In terms of marine life and coral diversity, the ‘Coral Triangle’ is the most biodiverse region on the planet, with over 6,000 species of fish and 76% of the world’s coral species, and an amazing concentration of marine wildlife that is increasingly rare and precious as coral ecosystems around the world dwindle and bleach. While the Coral Triangle reef network occupies just 1.5% of the world’s total ocean area, it contains 30% of the coral reef area on the planet, and it is also home to nearly all of the world’s marine turtle species. Over 16 species of whales and dolphins (including the blue whale), as well as whale sharks and dugongs, also live in the waters of the Coral Triangle.

This region also supports the livelihoods of more than 120 million people in coastal communities by providing food and income, especially from a multi-billion dollar nature-based tourism industry of the fascinating and unique reef sites in these waters.

Yet, our preliminary analysis shows that over half of these unique and precious reef ecosystems are under oil and gas production or exploration blocks, with well over three hundred such blocks in the Coral Triangle Implementation Area alone.

 

South East Asia - Oil and Gas Blocks Map by Earth Insight

The Verde Island Passage:

Huge expansions in fossil gas (LNG) in heart of Coral Triangle At the heart of the Coral Triangle in the Philippines lies the Verde Island Passage. In connection with the 2023 Banking on Climate Chaos report, Earth Insight completed mapping and analysis on the planned LNG expansion threat to marine ecosystems and coastal communities in connection with the new fossil gas expansion plans in the Verde Island Passage.

The expansion trajectory is alarming:

  • The Philippines is one of several countries aiming to build out an LNG Hub in the Asia Pacific region
  • At least 11 LNG import terminals have been proposed in the Philippines since 2002, and the first terminals could come online in 2023.
  • With eight new proposed gas power plants and as many proposed LNG import terminals, Batangas is the epicenter of fossil gas expansion in the Philippines and is one of five provinces surrounding the Verde Island Passage (VIP)
  • Significant areas of critical marine habitat are at-risk from increases in shipping intensity, and impacts of LNG plants and terminal construction and operation if this build out continues as planned
Marine Habitat Threat Map - Coral Triangle by Earth Insight

Local communities have been extremely active in organizing against this build-out, which aims to make this delicate ecosystem an energy hub for Southeast Asia. “These projects do nothing to support energy stability in the Philippines as resources are limited — resulting in needing to import from all over the world.” said Gerry Arances, founder and executive director of Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) in the Philippines, to BankTrack.

Protest in the Verde Island Pass by @CEEDphilippines
Protest in the Verde Island Pass by @CEEDphilippines
Mindora oil spill in the Verde Island Pass by @CEEDphilippines
Mindora oil spill in the Verde Island Pass by @CEEDphilippines
Gas Project in Btangas by @CEEDphilippines
Gas Project in Btangas by @CEEDphilippines

More offshore fossil fuel expansion equals more spills and damage to marine life and ecosystems

The devastating oil spill in the Verde Island Passage in February 2023 illustrates the dangers of building more fossil fuel infrastructure in this region, and elsewhere in the world.

The DeepWater Horizon BP Oil Spill was the largest industrial oil spill in history, releasing nearly 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the fact that it happened in 2010, scientists are continuing to see negative impacts on marine life, including very low reproduction rates for local animals such as fish and dolphins more than a decade after the spill. A very visible reminder of the dangers and long-term impacts of offshore oil drilling, it was one of nearly 2,000 oil spills globally since the 1970’s.

Satellite Data from Greenpeace
Satellite Data from Greenpeace

Leapfrogging directly to rapidly-expanding renewable energy

The Coral Triangle has been the focus for international and regional efforts to protect the integrity of this unique part of our planet, and key countries in the region have committed to the principles of the Coral Triangle Initiative. Given the scope and scale of fossil fuel expansion in the region and the associated threats to marine ecosystems and coastal communities, it is critical that financial institutions, the international community, and regional governments support a push away from fossil fuel expansion and towards rapid acceleration of true renewable energy solutions.

Green Turtle (chelonia mydas) in the Philippines by Barry Neal
Green Turtle (chelonia mydas) in the Philippines by Barry Neal
Blue starfish in the Phillipines by Stephane Bidouze
Blue starfish in the Phillipines by Stephane Bidouze
Orange clownfish by A-Arrow
Orange clownfish by A-Arrow

Mapping Threats to People, Nature and, Climate