| BEIRUT, March 8
BEIRUT, March 8 Lebanon's new energy minister
said on Saturday the government should press forward with its
first offshore gas licensing round without further delay and his
ministry would not be held up by the country's political
Beirut estimates it has some 96 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of
natural gas reserves but political dysfunction has prevented it
from kick-starting exploration and development of the sector.
Disputes over a new cabinet left Lebanon without a fully
functioning government for about ten months, leaving in charge a
caretaker government that said it could not approve decrees
needed to start bidding for energy blocks.
Politicians put together a new cabinet last month but it has
yet to approve the decrees because it must first get a vote of
confidence in parliament for a general policy statement that is
still being worked out.
Speaking at an economic forum in Beirut, Energy Minister
Arthur Nazarian said the ministry was nevertheless committed to
developing the sector, which many officials see as a way for
Lebanon to deal with its debt and rampant power outages.
"We assure that the ministry of energy and water will not
stop when difficult political situations occur in the country,"
Seismic surveys have indicated the possibility of
"promising" offshore oil and gas finds and a second stage of
land surveys is underway, he said, urging the government to
capitalise on the progress made so far.
"The current government should preserve the high level of
credibility Lebanon now enjoys in this field and immediately
initiate approval of the decrees linked materially with the
first licensing round," he said.
The decrees that need to be approved include ones that would
define the blocks and specify conditions for production and
The bidding round for exploration and production has been
delayed three times already. April 10 is the current date set
for them to begin.
The previous energy minister, Gebran Bassil, had said the
latest delay would be the last and that bidding would go forward
whether the decrees were approved or not. But with the new
government, it is not clear if that is still likely to happen.
Forty-six companies have been selected to bid for gas
exploration, 12 of them as operators, including Chevron,
Total and ExxonMobil.
A dispute over who would run the energy ministry, which has
been given extra weight by the potential for gas and oil
production, was one of the stumbling blocks holding up the
formation of the new government.
The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party allied
with the powerful Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, had wanted Bassil
to keep the portfolio.
In the end the post was given to Nazarian, whose Tashnag
party is allied with the FPM.