Spectrum begins first onshore oil survey in Lebanon

Spectrum engineers install survey equipment in Batroun to explore prospects for gas reserves.

BEIRUT: The first phase of the onshore oil and gas survey started Tuesday in the Batroun region amid expectations that Lebanon might be sitting on considerable gas wealth in some areas.

The British-based company Spectrum brought advanced mobile equipment to Batroun to explore the prospects of oil and gas in the area.

A spokesman for the company told The Daily Star that the first phase of the onshore oil and gas survey would continue until November.

He said the second phase would resume after the winter rainy season.

Experts believe that Lebanon may have substantial oil and gas wealth buried deep onshore, adding that some of the country’s geological structure is similar to Syria, which also has oil in its territories.

David Rowlands, the executive vice president of Spectrum, told The Daily Star that the results of this oil and gas survey would take several months at least.

“We have to study the land terrains and try to obtain permission from the owners of the land and municipalities before we survey for oil and gas. This is a long process,” Rowlands explained.

Asked about fate of gas licenses off the Lebanese coast, he said that companies were still waiting for the passage of two decrees announcing the 10 blocks available for bidding.

The decrees, demarcating 10 maritime oil exploration blocks and establishing a revenue-sharing model, require Cabinet approval before oil and gas contracts can be awarded.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated Wednesday that the caretaker Cabinet needed to convene in order to approve pending oil decrees and issue licenses for Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

“Even if the Cabinet is a caretaker one, we are not against holding a Cabinet session provided that all the pending oil decrees are approved and licenses are issued,” Berri was quoted as saying during his weekly meeting with MPs at his Ain al-Tineh residence in Beirut.

Berri said all of Lebanon’s maritime oil wealth should be protected.

“It is our right to use all means to fully develop all our oil wealth,” he was quoted as saying, apparently hinting at the disputed maritime area with Israel.

Lebanon and Israel both lay claim to roughly 850 square kilometers of maritime area that is said to be rich in natural gas resources.

Delays in issuing the decrees could postpone offshore drilling and exploration. Caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil has repeatedly called on the caretaker Cabinet to convene over the oil issue.

But sources said caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati was not too keen to call for a special Cabinet meeting to endorse the two decrees under the pretext that this move was unprecedented.

Forty-six international companies have submitted offers to drill for gas and oil off the Lebanese coast, but the delay in approving two important decrees has derailed efforts to draw the final list of companies that would start actual exploration.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2013, on page 5.




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