UPDATE 1-Lebanon selects 46 firms to bid for offshore gas exploration
By Laila Bassam BEIRUT, April 18 (Reuters) - Lebanon has selected 46 international oil companies to bid to explore for gas in its Mediterranean waters, Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said on Thursday. Bassil said 12 firms could bid as operators and the other 34 could bid as non-operators in the licensing round which opens on May 2, starting a process which should lead to agreement on exploration licences by March next year. Lebanon hopes that sizeable gas discoveries could help address both its high government debt and chronic domestic power shortages, but its initial steps towards exploration have been plagued by delays and now face additional uncertainty. Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned last month and his designated replacement has yet to form a new government. Only a new cabinet can approve a document setting out the 10 exploration blocs, ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 square km, which was awaiting cabinet endorsement when Mikati resigned, and approve the final results of the bidding process. Lebanon is also involved in a dispute over the maritime border with its southern neighbour Israel, which has already discovered huge gas reserves. But Bassil said the country would move ahead with the bidding round despite the domestic political uncertainty and the disagreement with Israel, which fought a month-long war with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in 2006. "Today we have completed everything required to launch the licensing process and to receive bids from the 46 countries," he told a news conference. "The issue of the borders with Israel will not have an impact as long as we are alert...There are many cases around the world of disagreement over borders, where oil is extracted without one side harming the other." The companies which have pre-qualified to bid as operators are: Anadarko Petroleum Corp Chevron Corp ENI ExxonMobil INPEX Maersk Petrobras Petronas Repsol Shell Statoil Total -
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