Lebanon’s outgoing energy minister said Tuesday that the first phase of oil and gas exploration off the country’s coast has begun.

Cesar Abi Khalil told reporters that he has approved an exploration plan submitted by three international companies who will search in two of the country’s 10 offshore blocks.

Abi Khalil said Lebanon’s first well will be drilled next year.

Lebanon last year approved the licenses for an international consortium led by France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek to move forward with offshore oil and gas development for two of 10 blocks in the Mediterranean Sea, including one that is disputed in part with Israel.