Metro Manila residents, still smarting from water shortage, are in for another crisis - possible disruptions in oil supply starting this weekend following the closure of the pipeline used by Shell and Chevron to bring petroleum products from Batangas to oil depots in Pandacan, Manila. To avert what officials call a "worst-case scenario," the Department of Energy (DoE) called for an emergency meeting with concerned stakeholders and sought the help of other oil companies on the possibility of augmenting supply, while Shell struggles to fill up its pumps due to shift in "product transporting mode," with the sudden closure of the oil pipeline operated by the First Philippine Industrial Corporation (FPIC) following the discovery of an oil leak in the basement of the West Tower condominium in Makati City. The FPIC closed its pipeline operations after some petroleumlike substances accumulated in the West Tower basement, although the actual cause of the problem is still being established. The FPIC said there was really no leak or seepage from their pipeline, but just the same the company decided to cease operations for safety purposes. "While we are concerned with the oil supply situation, we cannot also compromise safety, especially that of residents of the affected West Tower condominium. We are earnestly hoping that there is an early resolution that we can explore to address the situation," DoE director Zenaida Y. Monsada said. Pilipinas Shell Vice President for Communications Roberto S. Kanapi disclosed that supply at the firm's pumps, which may involve from 90 to 100 stations in Metro Manila and neighboring areas, have been wobbling starting midnight Friday due to delivery problems - from pipeline to use of truck and barges to deliver fuel products. As of Saturday morning, Kanapi said "the situation has worsened" and was compounded by the fact that the re-opening of the oil pipeline is still undetermined up to this point. The other oil firm using the FPIC pipeline is Chevron (the former Caltex) Philippines, Inc. Both oil companies and energy officials clarified that the problem is not necessarily supply, but delivery of the products. Delays, nevertheless, pose a crisis situation because they could lead to product shortage at the pumps. The situation that the industry faces right now is likened to a "dry-run" when the Pandacan depots are closed - that products will be transported by land or smaller barges all the way from the refinery and handling facilities in Batangas. Using trucks and barges may entail higher delivery costs that will redound to more expensive per-liter cost at the pumps. Monsada reiterated "we will explore all feasible solutions on how to ease the situation," noting that one of those being explored would be to ask the other oil companies to augment their supply delivery for Metro Manila until the time that the pipeline operations would "get back to normal." "We are meeting with all stakeholders, including the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) to address the concern of motorists, with the local government unit, FPIC, all other agencies concerned, and the oil companies, basically to map out what is the best solution or remedy to employ at this point," the energy official said. Monsada noted probabilities that Shell supply flow may be buffeted for days, but she expects that the other oil companies immediately beef up supply so circumstances will not turn as bad as expected Diggings continue Meanwhile, diggings along the pipeline of FPIC in the vicinity of the gas-seeping West Tower condominium will continue, said Makati Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Chief Samuel Tadeo "In coordination with the Makati council and through the orders of Mayor (Jejomar Erwin) Binay (Jr.), we have decided that the diggings of the (FPIC) pipeline to carry on," Tadeo said. "We will do our best to resolve this since this has been going on for days already," he noted. The BFP is part of Makati City Disaster Coordinating Council (MCDCC) that is closely keeping tabs on the condo gas leak. It has been two weeks since a mixture of what seemed to be water and oil began leaking at the sump pit of West Tower, particularly at the building's bottom basement, Basement 4. Authorities have not been able to confirm what type of oil or fuel has been leaking, but its effect to tenants there is beyond debate. Irritating gas fumes coming the one meter-deep seepage had already prompted Mayor Binay to order the evacuation of the 60 families residing at the condo located at the corner of Del Pilar Street and Osmeña Highway. About a fourth of the seepage is believed to be some type of petroleum. On Saturday morning, excavation of part of the lengthy pipeline some two blocks away from West Tower showed alleged traces of oil mixed with water. The diggings were specifically expanded to check if wayward fuel had already contaminated the potable water supply of Barangay Bangkal. But Engineer Efren Empresso, FPIC right-of-way chief, contested allegations that the leak came from their pipeline, saying that the product or fuel should have been more evident. An earlier digging near West Tower that exposed some 40 meters of the pipeline showed no such gas leak, Empresso noted. Tadeo, for his part, said that the samples taken from the excavation site Saturday must be subjected to laboratory tests for confirmation.
(With a report from Ellson A. Quismorio)