In early March, China’s state broadcaster announced the launch of what it claims to be the world’s largest and deepest operating offshore oil exploration platform. At 42,000 tons, the rig named Bluewhale 1 is reportedly the size of a soccer field and has the height of a 37-storey building. More importantly, it has a sophisticated drilling system that can reach the seabed at a depth of 3,658 meters and bore a further 15,240 meters into the earth’s crust.
The rig is clearly designed for exploration of the South China Sea where oil deposits are buried 3000 meters and more below sea level. The region has proven reserves of 7.5 billion barrels of oil, with current production running at 1.3 million barrels a day much of which is being extracted by the Malaysians. The US Energy Information Agency conservatively estimates that some 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas may be present. The Chinese, far more optimistic, describe the region as a second Persian Gulf and believe the oil total could be as high as 213 billion barrels.
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled decisively against China’s claim that it has title to most of the South China Sea by “historic right”.