State-owned Philippine National Oil Company Exploration Corporation (PNOC EC) is gearing up to explore the oil and gas potential of the domestic Liguasan Marsh onshore Mindanao.

“We are very interested in this," PNOC EC president Rozzano Briguez said during last week’s virtual Philippine Energy Transition Forum.

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PNOC EC and Malaysian counterpart Petronas had earlier planned to jointly evaluate the Liguasan Marsh but the joint venture stalled, not least because of security issues in the area, the Manila Standard reported.

Liguasan Marsh comprises 200,000 hectares of dry and wet basins bounded by the Mindanao River in North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces, and is said to be rich in oil and gas deposits.

About 30,000 hectares of the marsh has been declared a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary.

PNOC EC has already drilled two exploration wells in the area and found traces of oil and gas at Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat.

One local source earlier said that potential crude deposits in Lambayong could be in excess of 500 million barrels, although this could not be independently verified.

PNOC EC's plans, dating back to 2004, envisaged one exploration well at Lambayong and extended well tests on the Sultan sa-Barongis 1 and 2 wells, but not until all security issues had been resolved.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte two years ago announced that the Moro administration should take the lead in developing the Liguasan Marsh.

Responsibility for the marshland’s management was recently handed over to the government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), while the national government and BARMM would co-manage funds from oil, natural gas and coal operations.

“We will start with the Sultan Kudarat portion of the Liguasan Marsh first and then let the policies of BARMM and [the] DoE [Department of Energy] be sorted out before we will eventually explore the area,” Briguez said.