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Lebanon years away from gas riches even if it closes border deal with Israel

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AFP) — Lebanon is nearing agreement with Israel over a maritime dispute involving offshore gas fields, but the cash-strapped country still faces an uphill struggle toward unlocking potential hydrocarbon riches, analysts say.

“A deal would mark one step forward but it does not mean that Lebanon has become a gas- or oil-producing country,” said Marc Ayoub, an associate fellow at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute.

“We are talking of a timeline of five to six years… before the first gas” if commercially viable reservoirs are in fact found, the energy expert told AFP, describing the timeframe as “optimistic.”

With the demand for gas rising worldwide because of an energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Lebanon hopes that an offshore discovery would ease its current unprecedented financial downturn.

But more than a decade since it declared its maritime boundaries and an Exclusive Economic Zone, it still has no proven natural gas reserves.

One well drilled in 2020 by a consortium of energy giants TotalEnergies, Eni and Novatek showed only traces but no commercially viable gas deposits.

Further test drilling, in a block near the border, has been hampered by the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, which are technically still at war.

An Israeli Sa’ar Class 4.5 missile boat guards the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Following years of US-mediated negotiations, the rival states now appear to be nearing agreement after a draft proposal from Washington at the weekend was welcomed by both sides.

A deal would allow “offshore exploration activities to continue, but that doesn’t mean that Lebanon has become rich… or that its crisis has been solved,” Ayoub said.

‘First gas’

A 2012 seismic study of a limited offshore area by the British firm Spectrum estimated recoverable gas reserves in Lebanon at 25.4 trillion cubic feet (tcf).

The authorities in Lebanon have announced higher estimates.

Block 9 near the border with Israel contains the so-called Qana field or Sidon reservoir, and will be a major zone for offshore exploration by TotalEnergies and Eni that were awarded a contract in 2018.

After being partly claimed by Israel, the Qana field is expected to fall entirely to Lebanon as part of the maritime border agreement, according to Lebanese officials.

“This time next year, we should know if there is a commercial discovery in Qana or not,” Ayoub said.

“If we have a discovery, it will take… no less than three to five years after exploration”…

Read More: Lebanon years away from gas riches even if it closes border deal with Israel

2022-10-06 02:13:16

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