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Church rejects oil drilling plan

MANILA, 24 July 2007—A Catholic bishop has narrowly rejected a plan to allow oil exploration in a marine protected area off Bohol.

The opposition could a face a major setback for the government, which had insisted that oil exploration would help safeguard supply of energy.

Australia-based NorAsian Energy Ltd. (NAEL) is reportedly keen to start oil exploration in the area next year, in order to reduce the country’s dependence on fuel imports.

The Church and various environmental groups, however, argued that the Bohol blue sea should be left untouched.

But despite the resistance of Bishop Leonardo Medroso and the clergy of Bohol diocese, a seismic survey was done in the seas of Bohol that paved the way for allowing drilling to commence next year.

Medroso criticized the survey conducted by the government and the firm in the seawaters of Panglao, Dauis, and Maribojoc for failing to consult the local residents about it.

“We are appalled to learn that, given the nature of the seismic survey and its short and long term impact to human and marine life, the local communities and their officials as well as other groups who have a stake in the area were not duly consulted before the survey had been undertaken,” he said in a statement.

He said the survey, in search of natural gas and oil, was conducted with the go signal of both the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The bishop then urged the faithful to reject of the oil drilling project unless the government revealed to the public the details of the service contract and other agreements.

He also called on the public officials concerned to apply “courageously” the environmental laws to the oil exploration.

And there’s more to that, said Medroso. The survey was initiated on an exploration site that had been officially declared as a “Marine Protected Area” (MPA) by the national and local governments.

“Needless to say, the exploration site boasts of numerous marine sanctuaries and coastal based resource management programs,” the prelate said.

Medroso also said the project’s location is a home to a growing and world-famous eco-tourism industry that provides livelihood to hundreds of his flocks.

The government is pursuing oil exploration as one of its programs to make the country energy-independent and lessen fuel importation.

The Visayan Sea, especially the Tañon Strait (between western Cebu and Negros), the Cebu-Bohol Strait and the Cebu-Leyte Strait were reported to have an abundance of untapped oil or gas resources.

Government programs meant to improve the economy, he pointed out, should be left to the judgment of those who possesses too much economic power, of the political community alone.

“In this light, and in view of the greater risks to both human and marine life, it is a serious moral obligation for those who will deprive profit from the natural resource to set up a mechanism of just compensation before the oil drilling begins and with the participation and approval of those who may bear the possible harm of loss because of human error or accidents,” said Medroso.

The bishop added that the history of oil exploration is “replete with examples of individual and corporate greed and insensitivity to the people in the locality.” (Roy Lagarde)

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