First, the good news…
U.S. oil company ExxonMobil is reporting a “potentially significant” gas discovery off the coast of Vietnam, stating in a press release, "We can confirm ExxonMobil Exploration and Production Vietnam Limited drilled its second exploration well offshore Danang in August 2011 and encountered hydrocarbons."
ExxonMobil is the world's largest publicly traded oil company by market value. While Vietnam, an oil exporter and the third-largest oil producer in South Asia, began offshore exploration of its reserves in the 1970s, Hanoi only started in 2004 awarding offshore exploration concessions to a plethora of foreign companies, including those from the U.S., Canada and India with ExxonMobil receiving concessions from the Vietnamese government allowing it to explore blocks 117, 118 and 119 off Danang, an area that Vietnam insists is well within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone under international maritime law.
The bad news?
The South China Sea’s offshore resources are currently claimed by six countries – China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, with competing claims overlapping in a crazy quilt pattern. Given the billions of dollars at stake for exploiting the undersea energy resources, it is unlikely that the contradictory claims will be resolved anytime soon, making Southeast Asian waters a potential flash point for conflict.