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Bassil: Initial assessment of survey data promising

Energy Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Early estimates of analyzed data from 10 percent of surveyed Lebanese waters show 30 trillion cubic feet of gas and 660 million barrel of liquid oil, caretaker Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil said Friday.

Bassil added that 70 percent of Lebanese waters have been so far surveyed by international companies.“We have analyzed data from just 10 percent of [the surveyed area] and... early estimates show we have 30 trillion cubic feet of gas and 660 million barrels of liquid oil,” Bassil told a news conference in Beirut.

But experts say it is a bit premature to talk about oil and gas estimates until drilling kicks into full gear.

International oil firms are expected to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and gas explorations off the Lebanese coast in the coming few years, a senior executive at a leading oil survey company said Friday.

“Every well off the Lebanese coast which will be drilled by international companies will cost between $140 [million] to $150 million. Initially, two wells will be explored by these companies to determine if substantial quantities of gas exist in Lebanon,” David Rowlands, the executive vice president of Multi-Client – Mediterranean Middle East at Spectrum ASA, told The Daily Star.

He said the only way to prove gas exists off the coast was to start actual drilling and only then could the oil firms embark on full operations in Lebanon.

“We are looking at close to $300 million of investments in the early phase,” Rowlands explained.

Rowlands said that even if oil companies failed to find substantial amounts of gas in the first two wells they would probably continue their work.

Spectrum officials believe that drilling for gas in Lebanon may not be as complicated as other countries thanks to shallower geological layers.

Rowlands previously estimated that Lebanon had around 25 trillion cubic feet of gas in an area covering 3,000 square meters surveyed by his company using 3-D technology.

But Rowlands stressed these estimates might mean nothing if the actual drilling did not start.

“This is not a science. We are talking about geological structures that are 5 km beneath the surface of the water. We will never know if there is gas or oil until someone drills a well.”

In Libya in 2004, 65 oil companies participated in a bid round. The firms found nothing, he said.

“It was a flop. But this does not mean the same thing will happen in Lebanon,” he added.

“In our industry there are things called direct hydrocarbon indicators and these indicators in Lebanon are better than many other countries.”

He added that all of the 46 international companies bidding in Lebanon had done their risk assessments before making their offers.

“I agree with these companies. The risks in Lebanon are worth taking,” Rowlands said.

Lebanon has high hopes for the prospects of oil and gas, prompting banks and investors to give upbeat outlook for the country, which is plagued by huge economic, political and security problems.

But most observers agree that even if gas is discovered in large quantities, it would take at least seven to eight years until the country could benefit from this hidden wealth.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 11, 2013, on page 4.

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