Oil and Gas Author
Oil Reserves in South China Sea
The focus of most attention regarding the South China Seas resources has been on hydrocarbons in general, and on oil in particular. Oil deposits have been found in most of the littoral (adjacent) countries of the South China Sea. The South China Sea region has proven oil reserves estimated at about 7.0 billion barrels, and estimated oil production of around 2.5 million barrels per day. Malaysian production accounts for almost one-half of the regions total. South China Sea production has increased gradually over the past few years, primarily as additional production from China, Malaysia and Vietnam has come online.
The fact that surrounding areas are rich in oil deposits has led to speculation that the Spratly Islands could be an untapped oil-bearing province located near some of the worlds largest future energy consuming countries. Speculation that the Spratly Islands could have great strategic value has fueled disputes over ownership. In fact, there is little evidence outside of Chinese claims to support the view that the region contains extensive oil resources. Because of a lack of exploratory drilling, there are no proven oil reserve estimates for the Spratly or Paracel Islands, and no commercial oil or gas has been discovered there.
Resource estimates for the South China Sea region that have been reported in the Chinese press or attributed to Chinese officials vary greatly. Optimistic Chinese estimates of the South China Sea regions oil potential, however, have helped encourage interest in the area, with one report suggesting that the Spratly Islands region could become another Persian Gulf. One of the more moderate Chinese estimates suggested that potential oil resources (not proved reserves) of the Spratly and Paracel Islands could be as high as 105 billion barrels of oil, and another suggested that the total for the South China Sea could be as high as 213 billion barrels. A common rule-of-thumb for such frontier areas as the Spratly Islands is that perhaps 10 percent of the potential resources can be economically recovered. Using this rule, these Chinese estimates imply potential production levels for the Spratly Islands of 1.4-1.9 million barrels per day (at reserve/production ratios of 15 and 20). The highest Chinese reserves estimate implies production levels that are twice as high as this.
Chinas optimistic view of the South China Seas hydrocarbon potential is not shared by most non-Chinese analysts. A 1993/1994 estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey, for example, estimated the sum total of discovered reserves and undiscovered resources in the offshore basins of the South China Sea at 28 billion barrels. Using the same rule-of-thumb, these reserves could yield a peak oil production level for the Spratly Islands of 137,000-183,000 barrels per day, the same order of magnitude as current production levels in Brunei or Vietnam.
Natural Gas Reserves in South China Sea
Though sometimes overlooked, natural gas might be the most abundant hydrocarbon resource in the South China Sea. Most of the hydrocarbon fields explored in the South China Sea regions of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines contain natural gas, not oil. Estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey and others indicate that about 60 to 70 percent of the regions hydrocarbon resources are natural gas.
At the same time, natural gas usage among developing Asian countries is expected to rise by about 4.5 percent annually on average through 2025 -- faster than any other fuel -- with almost half of this increase coming from China. If this growth rate is maintained, demand will exceed 21 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) per year - nearly triple current consumption levels -- by 2025. Natural gas consumption could increase even faster if additional infrastructure is built. Proposals have been made to link the gas producing and consuming regions of the Pacific Rim region of Asia by pipeline, with the South China Sea geographically central to these regions.
Malaysia is not only the biggest oil producer in the region, it is also the dominant natural gas producer as well, and until recently has been the primary source of growth in regional gas production. The development of natural gas resources outside of Malaysia has been hampered by the lack of infrastructure. Despite this constraint, natural gas exploration activity elsewhere in the region has been increasing. Much of this new activity had occurred in the Gulf of Thailand, offshore China, in Indonesia around the Natuna Islands, and in Vietnam in the Nam Con Son basin southeast of Vietnam.
As with oil, estimates of the South China Seas natural gas resources vary widely. One Chinese report estimates that there are 225 billion barrels oil equivalent of hydrocarbons in the Spratly Islands alone. If 70 percent of these hydrocarbons are gas as some studies suggest, total gas resources (as opposed to proved reserves) would be almost 900 Tcf. If the rule of thumb for frontier areas were applied to these resource levels, the Chinese estimates would imply potential production levels for the Spratly Islands of almost 1.8-2.2 Tcf annually (at common natural gas reserve/production ratios in the region of 40-50). The entire South China Sea has been estimated by the Chinese to contain more than 2,000 Tcf of natural gas resources. As with oil, Chinas optimistic view of the South China Seas natural gas potential is not shared by most non-Chinese analysts.
The bulk of the worlds LNG trade passes through the South China Sea, and LNG shipments through the Sea to Northeast Asian Markets constituted well over half of the worlds LNG trade in 2001. Japan is by far the worlds largest consumer of LNG, with shipments to South Korea (the worlds second largest consumer of LNG) and Taiwan (the worlds fifth largest consumer of LNG) accounting for most of the remaining shipments through the Sea.
Competing territorial claims over the South China Sea and its resources are numerous, with claims for various areas by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, and Thailand. In March 2005, a memorandum of understanding was signed by China, the Philippines, and Vietnam to resolve the energy exploration issues among the three countries in the South China Sea. The countries agreed to do seismic surveys in the area which includes the SpratlyIslands, without giving up their respective territorial claims. The Philippine National Oil Company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and PetroVietnam agreed to design seismic oil exploration for a 3-year program covering a 55,000 square mile area. The three companies are sharing the $15 million project cost. The Chinese seismic vessel Nanhal is gathering the data. The seismic data is sent to Vietnam for processing. Then the data is being analyzed by experts in the Philippines.
Ownership of virtually all of the South China Sea remains contested. The disputed areas often involve oil and natural gas resources.
The South China Sea is rich in natural resources such as oil and natural gas. Ownership of virtually all of the South China Sea remains contested, and the disputed areas often involve oil and natural gas resources. The United Nations Law of the Sea has helped in resolving ownership disputes in the South China Sea. Island disputes and military skirmishes have plagued the South China Sea, but resolution efforts are underway. Most of the attention that is placed on resources in the South China Sea have to do with oil. Although natural gas is sometimes overlooked, it could be the most abundant hydrocarbon resource in the South China Sea. A large percentage of the worlds annual merchant fleet passes through the Straits of Malacca, Sunda and Lombok and continues into the South China Sea.
Thailand had 24 gigawatts (GW) of power generation capacity as of January 2003 from which it produced approximately 115 billion kilowatt-hours (Bkwh) of electricity. The decline of the Thai economy as a result of the Asian financial crisis resulted in a decline in domestic demand for electricity of about 3 Bkwh in 1998 before rebounding in 1999. This situation compelled EGAT the state-owned electricity company to revise its electricity demand projections. EGAT postponed or delayed a number of projects including: delaying the commissioning of the third and fourth 300-MW thermal units of the Ratchaburi power complex by three years to 2004 and 2005 respectively; postponing the start-up of the second 300-MW thermal unit at the Krabi power plant from 2001 to 2005; and delaying power purchases from three Laotian projects - the lignite-fired Hongsa project and the Nam Ngum 1-2 hydro projects to 2004 and 2005 respectively. While demand growth has recovered in step with Thailands economic growth over the last five years EGAT decided to lower its planned generating capacity reserve from 25% to 15% which further delayed the need for additional generating capacity.
Thailand contains about 14.8 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves of which it produced 787 billion cubic feet (Bcf) in 2003. The country consumed 1029 Bcf in 2003 including imports from Burma. Much of the countrys natural gas is used for generating electricity. In 2001 Thailand completed its program for the conversion of almost all oil-fired electric power plants to natural gas. Demand for natural gas is expected to rise at a 5-6 percent annual rate over the next five years which represents a substantial revision downward from previous official estimates. Bongkot is Thailands largest gas field located 400 miles south of Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand. Thailand began imports of gas from Burma in late 2000 used mainly at the Ratchaburi power plant. PTT also is in the process of building an extensive natural gas distribution network around Bangkok which will provide fuel for power plants as well as large industrial consumers.
Thailands economic difficulties in 1997-1998 which reduced natural gas demand along with rising domestic production forced the country to re-examine two natural gas deals signed with Oman and Indonesia. Planned imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Oman and piped natural gas from Indonesias Natuna gas fields for which preliminary agreements had been signed in the mid-1990s were delayed. Development of Thailands domestic natural gas resources and the imports from Burma are expected to cover anticipated Thai demand for the next several years though LNG remains a long-term option for Thailand. Thai officials held preliminary discussions in 2004 with Omani and Iranian officials about possible future LNG projects.
Thailand contains 291 million barrels of proven oil reserves. In 2005 Thailand produced 306000 barrels per day (bbl/d) of oil an increase of about 54000 bbl/d from the previous year. Of that production only about 114000 bbl/d was crude oil. Most of the remainder was natural gas liquids (NGLs) and lease condensate. Oil consumption in 2005 was 838000 bbl/d up from 823000 bbl/d in 2004. Demand growth in Thailand has slowed somewhat since 2003 largely as a result of increasing substitution of natural gas in electricity generation and increased use of ethanol in motor fuels.
Thailands economic growth slowed in 2005, partially due to high oil prices. Thailand completely eliminated consumption subsidies for petroleum products in 2005. Thailand will begin taking deliveries of natural gas from the Joint Development Area (JDA) with Malaysia in 2006.
Demand growth for Oil in Thailand has slowed somewhat since 2003, largely as a result of increasing substitution of natural gas in electricity generation and increased use of ethanol in motor fuels. A bidding round for new generating capacity is planned for late 2006.
In 2003, the vast majority (about 90%) of oil exported from the Persian Gulf transited by tanker through the Strait of Hormuz , located between Oman and Iran. The Strait consists of 2-mile wide channels for inbound and outbound tanker traffic, as well as a 2-mile wide buffer zone. Oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz account for roughly two-fifths of all world traded oil, and closure of the Strait of Hormuz would require use of longer alternate routes at increased transportation costs. Such routes include the approximately 5-million-bbl/d-capacity East-West Pipeline across Saudi Arabia to the port of Yanbu, and the Abqaiq-Yanbu natural gas liquids line across Saudi Arabia to the Red Sea. The 15.0-15.5 million bbl/d or so of oil which transit the Strait of Hormuz goes both eastwards to Asia (especially Japan, China, and India) and westwards (via the Suez Canal, the Sumed pipeline, and around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa) to Western Europe and the United States.
Besides oil, the Persian Gulf region also is important because it contains huge reserves (2,462 Tcf) of natural gas, with Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates holding the worlds second, third, fourth, and fifth-largest reserves (behind Russia), respectively. This likely will become increasingly important in coming years, as both domestic gas consumption and gas exports (by pipeline and also by liquefied natural gas -- LNG -- tanker) increase.
The Persian Gulf, also known as the Arabian Gulf, is a 600-mile-long body of water which separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula, and one of the most strategic waterways in the world due to its importance in world oil transportation. At its narrowest point (the Strait of Hormuz), the Gulf narrows to only 34 miles wide.
There have been, and continue to be, significant territorial disputes between Persian Gulf countries. Besides the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and before that the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, another important dispute is between the UAE and Iran over ownership of three islands -- Abu Musa, Greater Tunb Island, and Lesser Tunb Island, all strategically located in the Strait of Hormuz. The three islands were effectively occupied by Iranian troops in 1992. In 1995, the Iranian Foreign Ministry claimed that the islands were "an inseparable part of Iran." Iran rejected a 1996 proposal by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for the dispute to be resolved by the International Court of Justice, an option supported by the UAE. On December 31, 2001, the GCC issued a statement reiterating its support for the UAEs sovereignty over Abu Musa and the Tunbs, declared Irans claims on the islands as "null and void," and backed "all measures...by the UAE to regain sovereignty on its three islands peacefully."