The Minister of Energy and Water in the caretaker government, Cesar Abi Khalil, has reiterated Lebanon’s right to invest in its territorial waters.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Khalil pointed to pressure exerted by Israel on Total to stop exploration in Block 9, but he stressed that the firm and other members of the consortium were committed to the agreement signed with the Lebanese State on direct exploration and extraction. Israeli pressure “will have no results,” the minister said.
Last February, Lebanon signed its first offshore oil and gas exploration and production agreements with the Total-Eni-Novatek consortium for offshore Blocks 4 and 9.
Abu Khalil noted that exploration in Block 4 would start in 2019, while exploration in Block 9 would begin on the southern maritime border in 2020 after the final well is determined.
Israel is putting pressure on Total to halt exploration in Block 9. It claims that part of it is located in its Exclusive Economic Zone. But Lebanon insists on its right to explore it.
After digging the well in Block 4, the quantity of reserves will be evaluated and the final location of the drilling area in Block 9 will be determined, said the minister.
Abi Khalil also revealed that Total’s chairman, with whom he held talks in Norway on the sidelines of a conference last summer, told him that the Israeli ambassador to Paris had visited him, and that Israel was seeking to obstruct and delay the works in Block 9.
The French official replied to the Israeli ambassador that Total was committed to exploring oil in the Lebanese blocks, according to Abi Khalil, who, in turn informed members of Parliament’s Energy and Water Committee last September of the “geopolitical atmosphere surrounding Lebanon’s energy investment plan.”
The consortium and the Lebanese authorities “are committed to working in Lebanon’s EEZ according to the plan of exploration established by the Ministry of Energy and approved by the government, regardless of the pressure exerted by Israel,” the minister confirmed.
While delay in forming the new Lebanese government is seen as an obstacle to drilling and exploration, Abu Khalil stressed: “We don’t need the Council of Ministers to start drilling.”
He noted that a plan for exploration and drilling was approved by the Lebanese authorities and became binding on the consortium of companies; hence, it cannot be reversed despite the cabinet deadlock.
After Lebanon’s approval of a consortium plan to begin exploration and extraction last year, the Ministry of Energy had planned to launch a second round of offshore oil and gas exploration by the end of 2018 or early 2019. The absence of a government has put sticks in the ministry’s wheels.
Abu Khalil, however, revealed that the Cabinet, during its last session before assuming a caretaking role, gave his ministry the approval to request the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), to prepare for a second round of licensing, in preparation for the official launch after the government formation.
Last summer, the LPA began preparations to launch the second round, according to the minister.
Oil exploration was expected to begin in early February, based on political statements made last year. However, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that starting works early next month was “impossible,” pointing to expectations that the Lebanese would see the drillship off the Lebanese coast in Block 4 in the last quarter of 2019.