Lebanon pins hopes on first oil exploration

Lebanon pins hopes on first oil exploration
Lebanon pins hopes on first oil exploration

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun has described the potential discovery of oil under the country’s seabed as “the initiation of the Lebanese people’s dream.”

In the coming days, the Tungsten Explorer drilling ship will be docked in Lebanon’s special economic zone — about 30 km north of Beirut — to carry out the drilling of the first exploration well for oil or gas.

French company Total said the well located off the coast of Keserwan-Jbeil district “will be drilled at a depth of 1,500 meters from the sea surface. The drilling aims to explore reservoirs located at a depth exceeding 2,500 meters below the seabed.”

The Lebanese are pinning their hopes on the exploration of an area on the seabed called Block 4, which could revive the ailing economy. This event was the central focus of a message delivered by Aoun on Wednesday, in which he said it could “have a positive impact on the national economy and reduce negative repercussions.”

A delegation of officials from Total briefed Aoun on arrangements made “to begin the drilling operation within the next few hours,” according to Rafic Chlala, the president’s media adviser.

The drilling operations could last about two months, according to a company estimate.

The head of Total’s exploration and production in the MENA region, Stephane Michel, said: “If you think the drilling process looks easy, I assure you that it is not the case at 1,500 to 2,000 meters below the seabed. This is very complicated.

“We are doing it in a country where all the legal frameworks have been created. Multiple complex licenses have been prepared. This is a very important task. We are proud to have helped Lebanon take this path in an effective and expeditious manner, and I confirm that everything has been dealt with transparently and efficiently.”

Chairman of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration Walid Nasr said: “The logistics base in the port of Beirut and helicopters at Beirut’s airport are ready for the drilling operations, and all required environmental licenses have been secured in the necessary time.”

Nasr added: “Members of the Lebanese Army, public security and customs will be on board the ship to secure all the requirements for the drilling operations. The drilling operations are estimated to last two months, in addition to two extra months to analyze the results. We hope that the results will be positive, and that we will find oil or gas in preparation for the second stage. Preparations are underway for Block 9, in which drilling operations will be taking place this year as well.”

Drilling operations in Block 9 had been scheduled to begin before Block 4, but Block 9 includes a disputed part with Israel. Lebanon adheres to reaching, through American mediation, an agreement on both maritime and land borders with Israel. Lebanon and Israel are officially in a state of war and there is no demarcation of the land or sea borders between them.

Lebanon had signed contracts with three companies: French Total, Italian Eni and Russian Novatek to explore oil and gas in two areas in regional waters. Last April, a second licensing course for oil and gas exploration was launched in five other areas.

US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard said during her meeting with Aoun on Wednesday that the US supports Lebanon, considering that it “has reached a turning point.”

Richard said in a statement: “There is no reason why this country — that has many blessings, including amazing human resources — not to have a modern waste management system, 24/7 electricity for all, as well as one armed force under the state’s control, and a growing economy, in 2020.”

The US diplomat added: “Difficult decisions must be made, and everyone will have to bear some burden. It is an opportunity to chart a new path that will make this country realize its full potential as a modern and prosperous member of the international community.”

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