Total, Eni, Novatek win first Lebanon offshore licenses

By Dana Khraiche on 12/14/2017

BEIRUT (Bloomberg) -- Lebanon granted its first offshore energy rights to a group comprising Total SA, Eni SpA and Novatek PJSC, joining a regional race to find and develop oil and natural gas wealth in the eastern Mediterranean after years of delay.

The cabinet awarded two licenses in its first offshore bidding round, allowing the companies to jointly explore Blocks 4 and 9, Wissam Chbat, a member of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration, said Thursday by phone. The group has one month to prepare legal, administrative and technical paperwork before signing production-sharing contracts with the government in January, Chbat said. Drilling is expected to begin in 2019, he said.

France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek filed their bids to explore the two blocks in October -- the only proposals the government received. The licensing round has encountered setbacks since 2013 amid political disputes over block delineation and government paralysis, leaving Lebanon trailing Cyprus, Egypt and Israel in exploring the eastern Mediterranean. This year bidding was pushed back to give companies more time to understand a new tax law.

Israel dispute

Block 9 is one of three that lie in an area contested by Israel. Lebanon is working with the U.S. on resolving the dispute, according to Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Large gas reserves have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years, including the giant Zohr deposit in Egyptian waters and the Leviathan and Tamar fields off the Israeli coast.  

With a public debt amounting to around 150% of its GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund, and its economy weighed down by the cost of supporting 1.5 million refugees from Syria’s war, Lebanon is counting on revenue and taxes from discoveries to shore up its finances. That could help bolster fragile political breakthroughs this year in a nation once again caught in the middle of regional conflict.

It could, though, be some way off, said Carole Nakhle, director of London-based Crystol Energy.

“Experience shows that gas discoveries, particularly offshore, take time to be brought on stream. In Lebanon, this is more so because of lack of infrastructure,” she said.

Seismic surveys show the country has at least 96 Tcf of gas and 850 MMbbl of oil, Gebran Bassil, who was then the country’s energy minister, said in 2013.

The government is also studying a bill on onshore energy rights as parliamentarians try to draft a law governing Lebanon’s first sovereign wealth fund, which would soak up revenue from oil and gas.

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