Lebanon joins hunt for energy riches in Levant Basin

Special Lebanon joins hunt for energy riches in Levant Basin
Cesar Abi Khalil, Lebanon’s Minister for Energy and Water. (AP)
Updated 11 February 2018

Lebanon joins hunt for energy riches in Levant Basin

Lebanon joins hunt for energy riches in Levant Basin

LONDON: Lebanon has pledged to go ahead with oil and gas exploration near its disputed maritime border with Israel, despite Israel’s Defense Minister describing the move as “very provocative”.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quoted by Reuters as saying: “When they issue a tender on a gas field, including Block 9, which by any standard is ours ... this is very, very challenging and provocative conduct here.”
Lebanon was quick to respond: “We consider this statement as an aggression on Lebanon’s sovereignty to practice its natural right to explore our oil resources,” said Cesar Abi Khalil, Minister for Energy and Water.”
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) published an explanation of the dispute in 2016. It said: “The 1949 Israel-Lebanon armistice line serves as the de facto land border between the two countries, and Lebanon claims roughly 330 square miles of waters that overlap with areas claimed by Israel based in part on differences in interpretation of relative points on the armistice line.”
Lebanon passed two oil and gas decrees in 2017 in a sign that Beirut intended to progress on major projects and restore confidence to the policymaking machinery.
The decrees defined the blocks and specified the conditions for production and exploration tenders.
The Lebanese energy ministry said in December that Lebanon’s council of ministers approved the awards of two exclusive petroleum licenses for exploration and production in blocks 4 and 9 for the consortium. Block 4 covers 1,911 sq km while Block 9 covers 1,742 sq km.
The consortium submitted uncontested bids for two of the five blocks on offer, and will have five years to conduct exploration activities.

Doubts were raised over the government’s ability to sign off on exploration licenses after Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned and then changed his mind in a series of dramatic political developments in November.

Lebanon has no oil or gas production but its waters are estimated to hold 15 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, according to the the US Geological Survey (USGS). The body estimates that the eastern Mediterranean Levant basin, which spans waters off Lebanon, Israel and Cyprus holds about 122 Tcf of recoverable gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil.

There are over 800 square kilometers (300 square miles) of waters claimed by the two countries, which are technically in a state of conflict. Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006.

Arab News reported on Feb. 8 that Israel offered to accept US mediation in the latest spat with Lebanon. As tension rises over the issue, David Satterfield, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the US State Department, made a surprise visit to Lebanon last week for talks with senior government officials, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to visit on February 15.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz was quoted as saying: “We are willing to accept American mediation to resolve the issue diplomatically. There was international mediation on the matter in the past. We were close to reaching a compromise in 2013, but the whole thing collapsed at the 11th hour.”

There is also growing unease over Israeli plans to build a cement wall on its border with Lebanon. Construction work has already begun at the Ras Al-Naqoura border crossing.

Talks designed to resolve the issue took place at Ras Al-Naqoura on Wednesday between representatives of the Lebanese and Israeli armies, brokered by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).