Greenpeace tells Bassil move could lead to disaster similar to US Gulf
By Patrick Galey
Daily Star staff
Monday, June 07, 2010

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Patrick Galey

Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: World Environment Day brought with it dire warnings of natural catastrophe, should the Energy Ministry go through with a proposal to drill for oil off the Lebanese coast.

Greenpeace Mediterranean fired a note of caution at Energy Minister Jibran Bassil that any potential pursuit of fossil fuels in the seas around Lebanon could lead to an event similar to that caused by British Petroleum’s Deepwater Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which has become the worst natural disaster in United States history.

“A single catastrophe can get the country into bigger economic losses than what this project will ever bring, let alone the huge risk we are subjecting the marine ecosystem to,” said Garabed Kazanjian, Greenpeace oceans campaigner.

“Incidents such as the BP Deepwater catastrophe tell us that accidents do happen, no matter all the safety measures we take. Once they occur there is no practical way of cleaning more than a small fraction of the spill,” he added.

Last month the Energy Ministry brought forward a draft law which would entitle it to invite drilling companies to extract and distribute oil and natural gas which lie beneath Lebanese waters.

“Various Mediterranean countries have decided to grant new licenses to open oil exploitation in the Mediterranean, and the Lebanese government may be one future candidate,” said a Greenpeace statement.

The ministry has claimed that considerable amounts of fossil fuels are extant in the eastern Mediterranean seabed, enough to make the venture profitable and address some of Lebanon’s GDP deficit.

The Gulf of Mexico spill has been continuing for almost two months, after several attempts by BP to stem the leaking failed. There are fears that any move into offshore drilling could replicate a similar danger for the Lebanese coastline.

“The only way to avoid similar catastrophes is not to venture in such risky plans,” Kazanjian said. “These businesses only linger our dependency on oil. Instead of undergoing risky adventures, it is time to make investments in our renewable potentials.”

The Mediterranean is already the most contaminated sea on earth, absorbing between 400,000 and 65,000 tons of petroleum and other oil compound every year.

Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal announced during the wake of the COP15 climate change summit in Copenhagen last December that Lebanon will seek to have 12 percent of its energy needs met by renewable energy by the year 2020, a figure which has drawn skepticism from environmental campaigners.

Also on Saturday, the “Green Intervention” project was unveiled in Beirut to coincide with World Environment Day.

The scheme, organized by two Lebanese designers, Nadine Feghaly and Dima Boulad, saw the erection of patches of turf at nine sites across Beirut to express dissatisfaction with the lack of green spaces open to the public in the capital.

Each site, featuring a square meter of grass was accompanied by a sign, mimicking Beirut’s streets designated areas of cultural heritage, which read “Enjoy your green space.”

“We are calling for change, we are calling for urban green, we want to make people aware that it’s a real problem in Beirut,” said Boulad. The capital, destroyed and rebuilt several times during its existence, currently has only a handful of parks and green spaces, with most of Beirut’s constructing now dedicated to real-estate and housing projects.

“Public green spaces are our rights as citizens, and are so beneficial on many levels apart from the beautiful scenery,” Boulad added.

World Environment Day is an initiative by the United Nations aimed at promoting global green action. Founded in 1972, the day was last held in Beirut in 2003.