Lebanon fights to join East Mediterranean gas boom
BEIRUT -- Lebanon's government is reported to be close to appointing a panel to oversee exploration of potential rich natural gas fields offshore that could be the salvation of a country hovering on the brink of a new sectarian explosion.
Foreign companies, however, are unlikely to start drilling soon, even as neighboring Israel and Cyprus, which sit on the same gas-bearing strata as Lebanon, move swiftly toward energy self-sufficiency and lucrative export programs.
The signs, based on 3D seismic surveys, are that Lebanon probably has major gas fields within its maritime economic zone.
Israel, whose exploration operations are the most advanced in the region, has found around 30 Tcf of gas in its waters since 2009 and that's expected to rise.
Cyprus found some 7 Tcf in one of 12 blocks of the Aphrodite field off its south coast in its first exploratory drilling in December 2011. The Cypriots say they sit on enough gas to meet their current consumption rate for 200 years.
Syria lies along the same offshore strata. It hasn't conducted surveys yet. However, it's understood to contain gas fields similar to its neighbors.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported in 2010 that the Levant Basin, which runs from Syria through the waters of Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus, the Gaza Strip and Egypt, contains 122 Tcf of gas and some 1.7 billion bbl of oil.
Spectrum and its partner, Dolphin Geophysical, are surveying some 1,200 sq mi of the eastern Mediterranean, a program due to be completed in January.
But the Lebanese, their political process tangled in traditional sectarian rivalries between Muslims and Christians, and even subgroups within those camps, are trailing in the race the undersea riches.
Each sect wants its slice of the potential revenue and, given the deep-rooted corruption in Lebanon's political and economic life, some observers question how much of the eventual gas revenues will reach government coffers.
This, and the flare-up in sectarian tensions fanned by the 18-month-old civil war in neighboring Syria, has bedeviled Lebanese efforts to create an energy infrastructure and governing body to issue exploration licenses and negotiate contracts with foreign oil companies.