Israel’s Tamar field, lying 100 kilometres off the coast of Haifa in the Mediterranean, is producing around 28.3 million cubic meters of natural gas a day in its initial phase, and this figure will rise to 34 million beginning in 2015. The field was discovered in 2009 and Israel hurried to exploit the area, to secure energy independence. It used to import Egyptian gas, and is now aiming to become a gas exporter by 2020.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon, there has been talk about the possibility of large quantities of gas, and perhaps oil, for years. The tenders will be late, with the change in government and the political disputes that have prevailed up to now. We have heard that Britain’s Spectrum came to Lebanon and after conducting seismic tests in the sea, gave out huge figures about likely gas and oil deposits. But the head of Total, Christophe de Margerie, appealed for calm and reasonable optimism, since no high-tech seismic survey had been conducted. As long as no well-digging has begun, we cannot verify anything about the areas where gas and oil are, and how much there is.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon, there has been talk about the possibility of large quantities of gas, and perhaps oil, for years

Randa Takieddine

Certainly, Tamar’s production gives us hope that the Lebanese maritime area will be promising. However, according to more than one geologist, we have often seen the phenomenon of promising areas that lie adjacent to areas that are not as blessed. Lebanon must nevertheless speed up, first, the formation of a new government, to settle the matter. If it turns out that Spectrum was right in its expectations, this means that within several years, when Lebanon begins producing gas and oil, it will save $6 billion from its budget, which is used to import all types of fuels and gasoline. Digging and exploration, followed by production, take between five to six years. But before this, the process of issuing and awarding tenders should be accelerated.
The show must go on

The minister of energy, Gebran Bassil, informed international oil companies that prepared to take part in the bidding process that despite the resignation of the government, the dates had not changed. This was a strange statement of confirmation with the government having resigned, and it being unknown if he will be tasked under Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam with the same portfolio.

In any case, Salam is well aware that the country’s interest involves speeding up the awarding of tenders for the oil sector. Of course, the Salam government’s priority will be preparing and holding parliamentary elections, but in addition to this, he knows very well the importance of this issue for Lebanon. Certainly, he will move things ahead quickly, if he manages to form a Cabinet. Lebanon should not wait for a long time; it should accelerate work on this basic energy issue, one of fundamental importance for the economy and its recovery.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on April 11, 2013.


Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese writer and the director of Al-Hayat newspaper office in Paris. Her writing focuses on regional Middle Eastern conflicts, with other interests in global energy issues.