Lebanese caretaker Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar has announced that the international consortium on oil and gas exploration will continue offshore operations under the leadership of France’s Total.

Recent reports indicated that Total has stopped exploration for oil and gas in Lebanon. However, Ghajar explained that the coronavirus pandemic and budget cuts have forced international oil companies to reduce exploration in most countries; note that in 2018, Lebanon signed contracts for the first time with international companies, including Total, Eni, and Novatek to explore for oil and gas in blocks 4 and 9.

He indicated that it is difficult to maintain offshore explorations in light of the preventive measures taken to help limit the spread of the virus.

Ghajar confirmed that the exploration for gas by the consortium consisting of Total, Italy’s Eni, and Russia’s Novatec in blocks 4 and 9 has been extended to August 2022 after delays due to COVID-19 and the Aug. 4 Beirut port blast.

The companies presented their schedule and budgets for blocks 4 and 9 for 2021, including studies and data analysis in block 4 where an exploration well was drilled, as per the Exploration and Production Agreement (EPA).

The statement confirmed that the Energy Ministry and the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA) are following up with the consortium on the implementation of the two projects in both blocks.

The port explosion caused damage to the logistical base designated for offshore gas exploration, noted the statement.

Lebanese caretaker Energy Minister added that the consortium must also drill block 9 by the end of the first exploration phase; Block 9, which includes a disputed part with Israel, will not be included in the exploration although Lebanese officials pin high hopes on it to save the country from its worst economic crisis.

Lebanon hopes that Total’s second drilling will not be completed and well executed; Total still has to drill in Block 9 before May 2021 knowing that a part of this block is disputed by Israel and currently the indirect necogiations are freezed, which makes its exploration status very paradoxical.

President Michel Aoun told the US ambassador during his meeting on January 2021 that Lebanon wants to resume maritime borders demarcation negotiations with Israel based on deliberations during talks last year.

President Aoun also told Ambassador Dorothy Shea that Lebanon was “keen on continuing friendly and cooperative relations with the United States” after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, a presidential statement said.

The talks between the two countries were suspended in December after the Jewish state accused Lebanon of inconsistency.
President Michel Aoun on December 2020 specified Lebanon’s starting point for demarcating its sea border with Israel under US-mediated talks, in the first public confirmation of a stance sources say actually increases the size of the disputed area.

The two nations have been negotiating based on a map registered with the United Nations in 2011, which shows an 860-square-kilometer patch of sea as being disputed.

But Lebanon considers that map to have been based on wrong estimates and now demands an additional 1,430 square kilometers of sea further south, which includes part of Israel’s Karish gas field.

Anticipating new diplomatic climate especially after US presidential elections, there is an expectation of a revival of the sector by resuming the maritime borders demarcation negotiations with Israel and continuing the exploration of offshore operations by Total.