Forum Energy is to seek another two-year extension to its plans to drill two wells on the Sampaguita historic gas discovery which lies in waters claimed by the Philippines and China.
The Philippine-owned explorer had previously been mandated to drill two appraisals on the 1976 discovery by August 2013 before securing a two-year extension at Service Contract 72 up to August 2015.
UK-registered, AIM-listed Forum Energy is two-thirds owned by Philex Petroleum, a subsidiary of Philippine resource player Philex Mining Corporation.
Philex Petroleum chief executive Manuel Pangilinan said the explorer was now looking at drilling in the spring weather window of 2016.
He said the explorer would need 18 months to hire and deploy an oil rig.
"That's the plan of Philex Petroleum, subject to the approval of the Philippine government. And of course, we do not know how China would react," he was quoted by Reuters in Manila as saying.
The long-running, multi-party dispute over ownership of the waters of the region have returned to the headlines in recent weeks as China National Offshore Oil Corporation sparked deadly riots in Vietnam after starting drilling in another area that is claimed by both China and Vietnam.
The Sampaguita prospect is in an area called the Reed Bank or Recto Bank that the Philippines says is in its West Philippine Sea but which China sees as part of its South China Sea territorial waters.
The initial extension came after a Chinese navy vessel in February 2011 stopped a seismic vessel hired by Forum Energy.
Since the incident, Pangilinan said his group had reached out to China National Offshore Oil Corporation to examine a possible joint exploration of the prospect, but the talks have yet to result in an agreement.
The Philex Petroleum chief said the company was now also looking at other partners for the project.
Last year Weatherford Petroleum Consultants estimated that SC72 held best estimate contingent resources of 3.6 trillion cubic feet of gas initially in place and 65 million barrels of oil and liquids.