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Bassil: Cabinet must speed up gas exploration

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a joint news conference with Iraq's acting Foreign Minister Hussein Shahristani (not pictured) in Baghdad, August 18, 2014.

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a joint news conference with Iraq's acting Foreign Minister Hussein Shahristani (not pictured) in Baghdad, August 18, 2014.

REUTERS/Ali Abbas/Pool

10 November 2016

BEIRUT: Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Wednesday that one of the top priorities of the new government is to immediately review and approve the decrees pertaining to offshore gas exploration, stressing that Lebanon cannot afford to lose more time.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Kotzias and Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, Bassil said the delay in exploring gas off the Lebanese coast is not only due to the delay in demarcating the Exclusive Economic Zone.

“There is a general agreement in Lebanon concerning the need to demarcate the EEZ. But let us be clear about the issue of gas and oil. This problem is not due to border conflict with any neighboring country. No one can stop us from exploring gas in our territorial waters. The delay on this issue is purely Lebanese and the new rule and government must give top priority to the issue of gas exploration,” Bassil told reporters.

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The first decree refers to the delineation of the 10 offshore blocks to be offered and the other outlines tender protocol and the framework for exploration and production deals.

The successive governments failed to pass the two decrees although most parties agree that gas exploration will help solve most of Lebanon’s economic and financial problems.

President Michel Aoun vowed in his inaugural speech to press for the endorsement of the two decrees in the Cabinet once it is formed.

The United States tried to mediate between Lebanon and Israel to end the dispute over 870 kilometers of territorial waters.

But Lebanon insisted that the United Nations or a neutral party demarcate the territorial waters shared with Israel, a proposal rejected by the Israeli government.

A source close to the Petroleum Administration told The Daily Star in August that Lebanon’s gas potential off the coast is on par with the discovery of the commodity in Cyprus, Egypt and Israel, a source close to the Petroleum Administration revealed over the weekend.

“The potential resources in offshore Lebanon is not less than any of the reserves discovered in the nearby countries and is similar in magnitude to the size of these discoveries,” the source said.

The source declined to disclose estimated figures of potential gas off the Lebanese coast since this information is considered classified.

Cyprus seemed keen to reach an agreement with Lebanon on gas exploration since both countries share the territorial waters.

The small island has signed a deal in August for the transfer of natural gas via pipeline to Egypt, once extraction starts of discoveries made off it shores.

U.S. energy firm Noble found an estimated 4.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in one prospect off Cyprus in late 2011.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2016.

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