Can oil turn Lebanon’s lights on?

The Bourj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut is home to an estimated 30,000 displaced people and poor migrants. Getty Images
Updated 08 April 2018
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Can oil turn Lebanon’s lights on?

  • Lebanon’s rank out of 137 in reliability and quality of electricity supply
  • Lebanon and Israel have been contesting the rights to the 860 square kilometer triangular zone.
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil could not contain his excitement when the country began its first petroleum licensing round last fall. “Congratulations to the Lebanese people on Lebanon entering the club of oil countries,” he said on social media.
Are congratulations really in order, though?
Lebanon’s homes and streets are still plagued by regular timed blackouts.
While the country secured bids by a consortium of three companies for two offshore exploration and drilling blocks, its people can barely obtain power to light up their living rooms.
“We time our lives around the electricity outages,” Tamer, 60, an architect, told Arab News.
“I can only go to the office at 12 when the electricity is back on so that I can use the elevator and not have to go up five flights of stairs,” said Tamer, who has back problems.
Electricity in the country works in shifts. In big cities such as Beirut, the power goes out every day for three hours and generators can be heard humming throughout the capital. In poorer and more rural areas, it is off for much longer, sometimes up to 10 hours a day.
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index for 2017-18, oil-producing Lebanon ranks 134th out of 137 countries for the quality and reliability of its electricity supply.
While politicians over the years have promised voters “economic independence” and “a 24/7 electricity supply,” the main question Lebanon’s people are asking is: Will Lebanon’s oil production have a positive or negative effect?
“Potential benefits can turn into disadvantages in the absence of several factors, such as good governance and strong institutions,” Jessica Obeid, former chief energy engineer at the UN Development Program (UNDP) in Beirut, told Arab News.
“Talks on using the — for now non-existent — revenues to pay off Lebanon’s high debt, or revive the economy, should not be taking place,” said Obeid, who is also an academy fellow at the UK think tank Chatham House. There will be “no concrete results” for another eight to 10 years, she said.
“The only certain thing from my perspective is that the country will face a series of serious challenges in developing its petroleum industry.”
So far, since the seismic data implied the potential oil & gas resources off the coast in Lebanon in 2010, its people have witnessed a 29-month presidential vacuum, an infamous river of trash, and now continuous threats from Israel over a disputed oil and gas exploration block.
Lebanon and Israel have been contesting the rights to the 860 square kilometer triangular zone on the maritime border between the two nations. Israel has proposed formalizing maritime law in order to secure its right to the oil; Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, described this as “a declaration of war on Lebanon.”
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University this year that Lebanon’s plans to drill in the disputed offshore oil and gas field were “very, very challenging and provocative.”
With internal issues and political turmoil causing delays and hindering the petroleum industry in Lebanon, other regional petroleum producers have emerged as strong competitors, Obeid said.
For now, Lebanon must look to alternative resources to ameliorate its electricity problems, while solving the problem in the longer term is a task left for future generations.
 


Saudi Arabia, the UAE, UK and US hold Yemen talks in London

Updated 43 min 51 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia, the UAE, UK and US hold Yemen talks in London

  • Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir took part in the meeting of the Yemen Quartet
  • Meeting discussed how best to support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths

LONDON: Saudi Arabia and the UAE met in London on Friday to discuss with the UK and US the next steps in the Yemen peace process.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir took part in the meeting of the Yemen Quartet.

The UK Foreign Office said the meeting discussed how best to support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.

A ceasefire between Yemeni government troops and Houthi militants was agreed for the key port of Hodeidah in December during talks in Sweden. But the implementation of the truce has stalled and the Arab Coalition supporting Yemeni forces has accused the Iran-backed Houthis of dozens of violations. The coalition includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“I called this meeting so that we keep doing everything we can to move forward on the hard road to peace in Yemen,” UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. “This is a horrendous conflict and it is taking too long to turn the ceasefire agreed in Stockholm into a durable path to peace.”

The meeting was also attended by the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nayan, and David Satterfield, a US acting assistant secretary of state.