(For other news from the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit,
* First government estimate for such a large area
* Higher than several previous estimates
* But political instability is hampering progress
* Minister says questions raised by bidding companies
* Onshore oil and gas survey moving ahead
By Laila Bassam
BEIRUT, Oct 27 Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran
Bassil said new estimates for nearly half of Lebanese waters
suggested the country's reserves of natural gas and oil might be
larger than previously thought.
"The current estimate, under a probability of 50 percent,
for almost 45 percent of our waters has reached 95.9 trillion
cubic feet of gas and 865 million barrels of oil," he said.
The estimates are based on seismic surveys conducted ahead
of an auction for exploration rights which has already been
delayed by several months by a political stalemate in Lebanon.
As Lebanon prepares to move toward exploring and developing
its offshore oil and gas resources, Bassil said he hoped that
hydrocarbon revenues would give the country "political, economic
and financial independence".
"This definitely needs more exploration and drilling
activities to get more precise figures, but this is an
indication that with more work surveys and analyses, we are
getting higher results and higher expectations," he said in an
interview at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit.
The figures are the first estimates by the government for
such a large area of Lebanon's 10 exploration blocs, which range
from 1,500 to 2,500 square kilometres, and appear to imply
higher reserves than several previous estimates.
A 2010 U.S. Geological Survey study estimated that the
Levantine Basin, an area of 83,000 square km which includes
waters outside Lebanon's jurisdiction in the eastern
Mediterranean, held 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable
natural gas and 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
An analyst at survey firm Spectrum estimated in May that the
country's total deepwater gas reserves could be up to 80
trillion cubic feet.
DEBT, POWER SHORTAGES
Lebanon has been hoping that sizeable gas discoveries could
help address both its high level of government debt and its
chronic domestic power shortages.
But progress will be difficult given the country's political
turmoil, after Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in March
amid partisan squabbling that has stalled most government
Earlier this month, Bassil said he had delayed Lebanon's
offshore gas licensing round by another month until January
after politicians failed to form a new government, which is
needed to approve decrees to launch the bidding process.
Without approval of those documents, Lebanon's efforts to
exploit maritime reserves are on hold and 46 companies it
selected in April to bid for gas exploration will have to wait.
Bassil said that although no companies had formally
withdrawn from the bidding round because of the delays, some
were "hesitant and there are questions being raised".
Drilling could also be delayed in southern exploration blocs
by disputes over a maritime border between Lebanon and Israel
that has never been delineated because the two countries are
technically at war.
Bassil warned in July that Israel had the technical ability
to draw from Lebanese underwater gas fields. Israel's Energy
Ministry declined to comment on Bassil's remarks.
In addition to the tensions within Lebanon's cabinet,
economic activity in the country has been hurt by a spillover of
sectarian violence from the Syrian civil war next door; clashes
continued on Sunday in the Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli.
Separately, Bassil said an onshore oil and gas survey was
moving ahead as planned, in the hope that surveys of Lebanon's
Mediterranean waters could be matched by similar prospects on
He said one of five 2-D seismic surveys had been completed
and a second was to start next week.
Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits
(Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Andrew Torchia)