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LGU bans geothermal energy exploration within Mt. Bulusan eco-park

By Danny O. Calleja

BULUSAN, Sorsogon, Nov. 28 – A resolution passed by the local legislative council has fortified the opposition of this ecologically-rich municipality to the geothermal energy exploration project being pushed by the Department of Energy (DOE) within the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park (BVNP).

BVNP is a 350,000-hectare protected area covered by this town and five other municipalities around the active Mt. Bulusan. Gifted with lush vegetation teeming with exotic flora and fauna, it serves as home to several endangered species of birds and animals like falcon, monkeys, deer, wild pigs, among other rare ecological properties that contribute to its rich biodiversity.

It is also a watershed area supplying water to thousands of households and irrigating extensive farmlands within the six towns bordering it. It covers the scenic Bulusan Lake Ecological Park, a sprawling virgin forest area that encloses the magnificent Bulusan Lake, Sorsogon province’s main eco-tourism landmark.

Bulusan SB Resolution No 55-2011 passed last week and approved by town mayor Michael Guysayco Monday strictly bans any form of exploration and establishment of geothermal energy project within its jurisdiction covering six barangays inside the BVNP.

Authors of the resolution, Councilors Celestino Frades and Pedro Frando said its provisions are based on the mandates of Republic Act 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 that recognizes the critical importance of protecting and maintaining the natural biological and physical diversities of the environment.

The resolution also invokes the municipality’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), an ecological strategy instituted based on the pro-environment mindset of its people that embraces the common stand against all forms of exploitation of the natural resources of the locality especially geothermal projects like what the DOE is pushing, according to Frades and Frando.

In approving the resolution, Guysayco said the measure is aimed at securing for the people of Bulusan representing the present and future generations the perpetual richness of the municipality’s environment and biodiversity that form the national park which the Constitution protects from exploitation of whatever form.

Enforcement of this measure, he said would be assisted by the recently organized brigade of Wildlife Environmental Officers (WEOs), a 400-strong volunteer group from the BVNP communities to be deputized as forest rangers by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

This group was organized under “PRESERVE”, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-funded project which provides for a mechanism to involve communities within the BVNP covered by this municipality in the protection and care of its verdant forest and exotic biodiversity, according to Gusayco.

“The people of Bulusan have already expressed their strong opposition to the proposed geothermal project during a series of public consultations initiated by the DOE and its private contractor, the Summa Kumagai Industries (SKI) and this legislative measure fortifies that position,” the mayor said.

Two of the three other towns – Irosin and Casiguran whose barangays near the foot of the volcano will be directly affected by the project have also expressed opposition. Only the town of Juban through its mayor, Jimmy Fragata who hails from the Ilocos region and formerly a ranking employee of the BacMan geothermal project in Sorsogon City has signified approval.

The project expects to produce some 40 megawatts of geothermal power following a five-year exploration and construction activities that would slash into the BVNP was awarded early last year by the DOE under its Geothermal Resource Energy Service Contract (GRESCO) to the SKI Construction Group Inc., a fully-owned subsidiary of First Philippine Holdings Corporation of the Lopez Group.

SKI president and chief executive officer (CEO) Albert Altura on the other hand said they are not giving up the project despite oppositions from the host communities and they will continue holding public consultations to explain its benefits not only for the localities but to the entire Luzon area that will make use of the electricity to be derived from it.

He said that their optimism is still alive that the SKI and DOE would be able to neutralize the opposition through more public information, education and communication (IEC) initiatives.

The Bulusan Geothermal Energy Project (BGEP) service contract between the DOE and SKI, Altura said covers a five-year development arrangement, the first two years for the exploration or pre-development stage and the next three years for the full development stage.

The pre-development stage would involve the conduct of date review, geochemical sampling, geophysical investigations, data evaluation and resource assessment through drilling of exploratory wells down to the earth’s core within the 26,000 portion of the BVNP.

The development stage is for massive constructions, forest clearing and well-drilling activities to put up roads, geothermal plants, power turbines, toxic waste tailing ponds and other installations, he explained. (PNA)

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