January 06, 2012 02:06 AM
By Osama Habib
The Daily Star

?BEIRUT: Lebanon is sitting on one of the biggest gas reserves in the region and drilling is likely to start as early as this year, a leading expert said Thursday.

“I am very happy that [the] Lebanese government passed the law to administer the country’s oil and gas wealth off the coast. This is a major step that will make Lebanon one of the largest gas producers in the region,” Roudi Baroudi, a leading energy expert, told The Daily Star.

He added that the 11th basin off the Lebanese coast is reported to have a gas reserve which are almost three times bigger than Libya’s gas reserve.

Energy and Water Minister Jibran Bassil, who lobbied hard to pass the law in the Cabinet, was upbeat about the future of the oil wealth in Lebanon, stressing that drilling can start in three months, once the tender is complete.

The Cabinet endorsed the long awaited oil and gas decrees Wednesday after a prolonged and heated debate over who should administer the tender and oil and gas exploration off the Lebanese coast.

The news about the imminent oil exploration may be one of the few items of good news in a country plagued with numerous security and economic problems.

In principle, the government should name a body which will administer the entire oil and gas exploration process.

The individuals who will serve in this body should be named within one month or less, although some quarters fear political bickering over the appointments will ensue.

Baroudi insists Lebanon can legally start oil and gas drilling within the undisputed Lebanese offshore territorial borders.

Lebanon is engaged in an ongoing debate with Cyprus, Turkey and Israel over the demarcation of offshore borders for its Exclusive Economic Zone.

According to Lebanese energy experts, Lebanon’s EEZ stretches some 12 nautical miles out to sea.

Baroudi stressed that companies can start drilling for oil and gas in an area 20,000 square kilometers large off the Lebanese coast.

“This area offers a variety of an unexplored hydrocarbon. We are talking about billions of dollars worth of gas,” he added.

Baroudi revealed that the 11th basin contains 1.9 billion barrels of untapped oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The 11th basin stretches the entire length of Lebanon.

“Once we find the oil and have wealth this will be considered as money in the treasury. The second important step is the issue of the sovereign wealth fund which should, in my opinion, be under the jurisdiction of the Central Bank in case the government fails to name people for this committee,” Baroudi said.

However, it seems highly unlikely that politicians will reach an agreement on the names for the sovereign wealth fund.

All seismic 3-D surveys that were carried out by European and U.S. companies in the past few years proved that Lebanon has significant oil and gas wealth off the coast.

Bassil also commented on tenders during an interview with Reuters.

“Launching the international tenders can and should be completed in the next three months and we will make a big effort to do this,” Bassil said. “The last step will be signing the first contract which we will do in the next year or less.”

Bassil said the Cabinet’s approval of the ministry’s plans would allow it to appoint a committee to oversee drilling and exploration. The committee should be appointed within a month, he said.

The minister shrugged off concerns over potential drilling delays due to a maritime border conflict with Israel.

The two countries, which remain formally at war, are disputing an 850-square-km stretch of sea off their coast that lies near an area where U.S. and Israeli firms discovered the two massive natural gas fields.

“Our petroleum resources are not limited to this area and this issue will not stop us in any way from progressing on the drilling issue,” the energy minister said.

“If Israel thinks it can delay us with this plan, no, that is a completely separate problem and we are not cornered.”

United Nations officials said the two countries were working to avoid conflict. But Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group that fought a war with Israel in 2006, have warned they will defend the country’s natural resources.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 06, 2012, on page 1.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Business/Lebanon/2012/Jan-06/158999-lebanon-may-tap-gas-wealth-in-2012.ashx#ixzz1idW5TCrA
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