BEIRUT: Caretaker Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil announced Wednesday that the date to submit bids to explore for gas in Lebanon has been extended from Nov. 4 to Dec. 10 after the Cabinet missed a deadline to pass two important decrees to demarcate the gas blocks.
Bassil, who was speaking at a news conference to explain the reasons for the delay in issuing the decrees, avoided blaming the president and the caretaker prime minister for this postponement.
The minister said the offshore gas blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 9 would be opened for bidding once the Cabinet held a session to pass the two decrees.
“If the decrees are not issued before November of this year, then we will extend the date to offer the bids. If the decrees are passed before November then the bidding will be held in this month,” Bassil said.
Some of the oil companies that were approved in the earlier prequalification round have pulled out due to the delay in progress to the first round of bidding.
Other companies have sent messages to concerned parties that their patience was wearing thin as a result of the constant delays, warning that the investments in Lebanon would move to other countries if politicians failed to depoliticize the oil sector.
A senior oil sector executive told The Daily Star earlier that the delay in issuing the decrees had affected Lebanon’s credibility, noting that some of the firms might not be willing to bid at this point even if a new Cabinet was formed.
Sources said that caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati refused to hold an extraordinary session for the Cabinet to pass the two decrees although he has said that he had no reservations on these decrees.
“What happened is not a disaster or the end of the oil march. But nevertheless, this [delay] is a big loss for a country like Lebanon. These delays will deal a blow to the credibility of the state in the oil sector. There is no justification for this delay,” Bassil added.
He admitted that some of the 46 companies that qualified in the pre-qualification round may be induced to pull out their offers.
“Furthermore, this delay will give Israel an advantage to proceed with gas exploration before Lebanon and this would allow them to take a position in the international oil markets,” the minister said.
Bassil suggested that some Lebanese parties, which he did not name, seem to have vested interest in derailing the oil and gas tender.
“There are some Lebanese parties which served the interest of other countries by downplaying the importance of oil wealth in Lebanon. Some of these parties seem to serve the interests of the Turkish side and for this reason they tried to hamper an oil agreement between Lebanon and Cyprus,” Bassil said.
He called on the Lebanese to beware of what he termed “Israeli oil agents in Lebanon.”