Lebanon’s government has approved a second offshore energy licensing round with bids to be submitted early next year, Energy Minister Nada Boustani said on Thursday.
Offshore energy development has been a central ambition for successive governments in cash-strapped Lebanon, but political paralysis has caused years of delays and the country is in dispute with Israel over the maritime border along some exploration blocks.
Lebanon awarded a first license for offshore oil and gas exploration and production last year to a consortium comprising France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek, which aims to drill its first well by the end of this year.
The Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), the government agency that manages the sector, recommended four offshore blocks to be included in the second licensing round, but Boustani did not say if they had all been approved.
One of the blocks awarded last year in the first licensing round was located on the maritime border with Israel, but the consortium said it was not drilling near the disputed waters.
Lebanon is on the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean where a number of big sub-sea gas fields have been discovered since 2009 in Cypriot, Israeli and Egyptian waters.
Beirut tried to launch its first offshore exploration in 2013, but domestic political problems delayed it until 2017.
Bids for the second licensing round are due on January 31, 2020, Boustani said.
On March 7, Lebanon warned its Mediterranean neighbors that a planned EastMed gas pipeline from Israel to the European Union must not be allowed to violate its maritime borders.
Beirut has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel over a sea area of about 860 sq km (330 square miles) extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern energy blocks.
Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, said he had written to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of Cyprus, Greece and Italy to request that the pipeline does not infringe on Lebanon’s rights within what it claims as its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Israelis and their partners have been proceeding despite Lebanon’s complaints. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel a few days later to help with its plan to export natural gas to Europe.