BEIRUT: Exploratory drilling for oil in Lebanese waters will begin this week, Agriculture and Culture Minister Abbas Mortada said Sunday.

Drilling for oil will start this Thursday ... This is an opportunity to advance the national economy and recover from the difficult economic crisis, Mortada said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.

The Bahamas-flagged Tungsten Explorer, which will lead the exploratory mission, is expected to reach Lebanon Monday.

Former Energy Minister Nada Boustani in August awarded U.S.-based Vantage Drilling a contract to supply the drill ship, but its expected arrival has been pushed back several times.

This time, however, things seem to be different.

Its on its way and is moving, the Natural Resource Governance Institutes MENA director Laury Haytayan told The Daily Star.

When I saw it today [via a vessel tracking platform], it was passing though international waters off the coast of Israel and heading towards Beirut. I expect it to arrive on Monday, or a day after.

Total, the French lead company in a consortium that includes Italy's Eni and Russia's Novatek, has 60 days to drill for hydrocarbons in Lebanons first exploratory well in offshore Block 4.

It will then analyse the findings.

We were told that this will take about two months, but in the contract it says they have up to six months to do the full analysis and come up with the results, Haytayan said.

According to her, there are three scenarios for the results.

They could either find a dry well, the existence of certain quantities of oil and gas, or make a commercial discovery that would prompt the government to move into appraisals and planning for development and production.

The discovery of a commercial quantity would be a game changer for Lebanon ... but finding something that is not commercially viable is still very exciting, Haytayan said .

It would help geologists better identify where to drill in Block 9, and inform possible further drilling in Block 4.

While Lebanon must wait for the results of the exploratory mission, there is cause for optimism.

For now, we should be a bit thrilled. This has been a very long saga. In 2007, they published the policy paper on oil and gas, and now in 2020 the first drilling will happen. Weve been waiting for this drill ship for so long it has been like our own Godot.

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