Gas exploration plans in Lebanon’s Mediterranean waters have progressed since the country reached a maritime border deal with Israel last year.

Adam Lucente. August 22, 2023

JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images
Total Energies Managing Director in Lebanon Romain de la Martiniere (C-R) speaks in front of maritime research vessel Janus II, on Feb. 17, 2023 at Beirut Port. – JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images

A French-Italian-Qatari energy consortium began offshore exploration in Lebanon on Tuesday in another sign of progress in the crisis-stricken country’s gas plans.

TotalEnergies, Eni and QatarEnergy launched their exploration activities in Lebanon’s Block 9, located in the eastern Mediterranean about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Beirut. Prime Minister Najib Mikati, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and other officials visited the consortium’s rig to mark the start of the exploration, Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported.

The actual drilling will begin “in a few days,” TotalEnergies’ general manager in Lebanon, Romain de La Martiniere, told the agency.

Background: TotalEnergies, Eni and Russia’s Novatek signed a gas exploration deal with Lebanon in 2018. The group ceased operations in Block 4 in 2020 after failing to find sufficient gas. Exploration in Block 9 was repeatedly delayed due to Lebanon’s maritime border disagreement with Israel.

Israel and Lebanon reached an agreement on their maritime border in October and then-Lebanese President Michel Aoun asked TotalEnergies to promptly begin energy exploration in Block 9.

The consortium’s rig, Transocean Barents, arrived to Block 9 last week.

Novatek left the consortium in August of last year and QatarEnergy joined this past January. TotalEnergies and Eni each hold a 35% stake, while QatarEnergy owns the remaining 30%.

Why it matters: Lebanon has suffered from chronic electricity shortages for years and the issue has been exacerbated by the economic and political crisis that began in 2019. A March report from Human Rights Watch said that public electricity is only available for one to three hours a day. The shortage forces the Lebanese to rely on fuel-powered generators, but fuel prices have likewise risen considerably amid the crisis.

“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,” wrote the New York-based organization.

Developing its own natural gas sector could thus help alleviate Lebanon’s electricity woes. However, corruption and government mismanagement could nullify potential benefits to the Lebanese public.

Know more: Lebanon’s neighbor Israel is seeking to boost natural gas production. Domestic needs can be met by current output levels, but Israel wants to export more in response to Europe’s efforts to find alternatives to Russian gas following the Ukraine war, David Rosenberg wrote in a memo for Al-Monitor PRO last week.

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