International consortium begins gas exploration in Lebanon

The drilling rig arrived at Lebanese waters last week
International consortium begins gas exploration in Lebanon
Lebanon is counting on its gas discoveries to be the country’s economic lifeline

An international consortium has begun gas explorations in Lebanon, a welcome move for the country’s energy plans and economic recovery ambitions. The companies involved include TotalEnergies, Eni, and QatarEnergy.

This comes after Lebanon sealed a US-mediated maritime agreement with Israel in October last year. Upon the establishment of a maritime border, then Lebanese President Michel Aoun asked TotalEnergies to commence drilling. 

This is a positive development for Lebanon which pins its hopes on energy discoveries to help alleviate pressure on its energy resources.

In addition,  Lebanon hopes the new exploration activity will yield economic benefits that will contribute to efforts to address its financial crisis.

Apart from its local currency losing value, Lebanon’s foreign reserves are also dwindling. 

Read: Inflation in Lebanon rises to 251.5% amid solutions crises

Exploring Block 9

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, along with parliament speaker Nabih Berri and other dignitaries, visited the drilling rig to commemorate this milestone in energy exploration.

In an interview with Lebanon’s official National News Agency, Romain de La Martiniere, the general manager of TotalEnergies, revealed that the actual drilling operations will begin in the coming days. 

The consortium, consisting of French, Italian, and Qatari energy giants, will focus its activities on Block 9, which is located near the border of Israel in the eastern Mediterranean about 120 km away from the Lebanese capital of Beirut. It contains the so-called Qana field or Sidon reservoir. 

Transocean Barents, the consortium’s drilling rig, arrived at Block 9 last week.

Electricity shortages

Amid Lebanon’s economic slump, the country has also been experiencing chronic shortages in electricity. In a March report by Human Rights Watch, public electricity is only available for merely one to three hours daily. 

According to the organization, “the electricity crisis has exacerbated inequality in the country, severely limited people’s ability to realize their most basic rights and pushed them further into poverty.”

Currently, the government is resorting to fuel-powered generators. But this, too, has its challenges. The economic crisis has caused fuel prices to increase substantially. 

Offshore potential

In 2012, British firm Spectrum conducted a seismic study of an offshore area in Lebanon’s waters. It estimated that Lebanon has recoverable gas reserves amounting to 25.4 tn cubic feet.

In recent years, the country has ramped up its efforts to explore potential energy in its Mediterranean waters. Another consortium had in fact inked a deal with Lebanese authorities in 2018. Besides TotalEnergies and Eni, Russia’s Novatek was involved. They were in charge of searching for energy resources in Block 4. With no sufficient gas found in the area, they had since stopped their operations.

In August 2022, Novatek withdrew from the consortium. QatarEnergy joined in January this year to form a new group that would perform exploratory drilling, mainly in Block 9. 

For Lebanon, the discovery of gas is only the first step. Marc Ayoub, an associate fellow at the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, predicted that production could start three to five years after a successful exploration.

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