BEIRUT: The auction for the licensing of offshore gas exploration in Lebanon has been rescheduled for April 10, caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.
“The April 10 deadline is a final one and gives companies who want to participate in the auction enough time to come forward,” Bassil added.
This marks the third time that the Energy Ministry has postponed the auction, which had been due to be held on Jan. 10, after the caretaker government failed to pass two essential decrees.
The caretaker Cabinet under Prime Minister Najib Mikati has refused to convene to pass two decrees related to the number of blocks to be auctioned off and to revenue sharing, despite pressure by Bassil and his allies.
However, the delays have given rise to fears that Lebanon will miss a golden opportunity to tap its gas wealth this year if the country’s politicians remain at odds over the composition of a new Cabinet.
The Energy Ministry estimates that Lebanon has at least 96 trillion cubic feet of gas and 850 million barrels of oil in 45 percent of the country’s surveyed territorial waters.
Bassil expressed gratitude to the companies willing to take a risk by investing in Lebanon, saying he understood the reasons behind decisions by other firms who hesitated or withdrew from the tender.
Unconfirmed reports said that many of the international companies who participated in the initial rounds of prequalification bidding had decided to move their business to countries that enjoy political and security stability.
Bassil criticized officials who opposed a Cabinet session.
“History will remember that some officials failed to do their jobs and to help explore gas and oil in Lebanon,” he said.
He also said that the oil and gas issue should be the upcoming government’s top priority.
The minister has warned that any delays in the licensing auction would allow Israel to siphon off the country’s gas wealth in disputed territorial waters.
Lebanon and Israel both lay claim to an area that spans some 860 square kilometers off the coast of the two countries that is thought to be rich in gas and oil.
Lebanon hopes to use part of the gas and oil wealth to reduce the public debt, stimulate the economy and invest in crucial infrastructure projects.