Benham Plateau, also known as the Benham Rise, is a 13-million-hectare undersea region rich in minerals and huge natural gas deposits, located in the Philippine Sea, East of Luzon.

Benham Rise is not subject to any maritime boundary disputes and claims unlike the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea, which is also claimed by China and other Southeast Asian countries.

On April 2012, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has approved the Philippines’ territorial claim to Benham Rise, which the Philippine government claimed as an extension of the Philippines’ continental shelf.

Benham Rise, is a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea approximately 250 km (160 mi) east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.
Benham Rise, is a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea approximately 250 km (160 mi) east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.

An American geologist surnamed Benham discovered the area that was between 40 and 2,000 meters below the waterline in 1933. Benham Rise has been part of the culture of ancient Filipinos. Ancient Catanduanes people have fished and roamed the area long before the colonial era.

For the past years, studies conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR), indicated that Benham Rise has large deposits of methane in solid form.

Structure of a gas hydrate (methane clathrate) block embedded in the sediment of hydrate ridge, off Oregon, USA. Image credit: Wikipedia
Structure of a gas hydrate (methane clathrate) block embedded in the sediment of hydrate ridge, off Oregon, USA. Image credit: Wikipedia

Methane clathrate also called methane hydrate or methane ice is a solid clathrate compound in which a huge amount of methane is trapped inside a crystal like structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice. Significant deposits of methane clathrate have been found beneath Antarctic ice and in sedimentary deposits along continental margins worldwide.

Huge methane ice (burning ice) deposits in Benham Rise could turn the Philippines into a natural gas exporter.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel used as a source of energy for heating, cooking, and electricity generation. It is also used as fuel for vehicles and as a chemical feedstock in the manufacture of plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals.

Methane_hydrate
The U.S. geological survey estimates that global deposits of methane hydrates may be greater than the world’s oil and fossil fuels combined.

Methane ice deposits are believed to be a larger hydrocarbon resource than all of the world’s oil, natural gas and coal resources combined, it could become the next energy game changer. Experts dubbed the methane ice as the “fuel of the future.”

In fact, the deposits of this methane ice in Benham Rise are believed to be so huge, it could make the Philippines one of the richest countries in the world.

February 12, 2016 –Japan and Korea expressed interest in exploring Benham Rise

The infamous Fukushima disaster has led to Japan’s entire nuclear industry to shut down, resulting in its gradual shift back to fossil fuel for power generation.

The Japanese government has spent millions of dollars on researching related to methane ice after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

On March 2013, Japan becomes the first in the world to successfully extracted gas from methane ice from the seabed, 3,300 feet below sea level. They are planning to commercially produce the natural gas by early 2020.

Recently, Benham Rise has attracted the interest of experts from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (Jamstec) and Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIOST) to collaborate in conducting research and exploration.

JAMSTEC's Shinkai 6500 Submersible. Image source: jamstec.go.jp
JAMSTEC’s Shinkai 6500 Submersible. Image source: jamstec.go.jp

JAMSTEC would like to do a survey using its ¥6-billion submarine research project. They adviced the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to collaborate with them or maybe rent their equipment in exploring the vast gas-rich area of Benham Rise.

In 2011, Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus Paje said “Benham Rise is very relevant because of its gas deposits which has been confirmed particularly by the National Mapping Resource Information Agency. It has given us the data that the area contains solid methane. We have not explored it but we have found nodules of methane in the surface and this is very important to us.”

Burning ice: Methane hydrate is set on fire in this undated file photo.
Burning ice: Methane hydrate is set on fire in this undated file photo.

He added that there would be a demand for gas deposits in Benham Rise “because it’s much cleaner than other fossil fuels.”

Paje said that gas deposits in the area would also enable the country to achieve energy sufficiency.

Aside from Benham Rise, the Philippines has another resource-rich area in the West Philippine Sea, the Kalayaan Island Group which is part of the disputed Spratly Islands claimed by the Philippines. It is also believed to have contain oil and natural gas.

If methane hydrates were developed, it would have a truly transformational impact on energy markets, arguably even more so than the United States shale revolution ever did.

To understand more about methane hydrates, watch the video below.

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