Back to spats over Lebanon's oil and gas exploration

Jul 19, 2016 12:00 AM

Lebanon's Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Speaker Nabih Berri were at loggerheads Monday over the country’s oil and natural gas reserves, despite a recent agreement that was believed would pave the way for Lebanon to extract its offshore resources.

Salam told the As-Safir daily on Monday that he will not call a ministerial committee meeting to address Lebanon's offshore oil and natural gas reserves until "the file is ripe and approached in a clear and transparent manner."

Technical, financial and administrative expertise are needed to address Lebanon's natural resources, he said.

"My stance is clear, this is a national and technical file par excellence and it should remain far from political bidding," he said in remarks to local newspapers published on Monday.

The Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement announced at the beginning of July that they had settled their dispute over Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas reserves, raising hopes that Lebanon could soon prepare to drill for oil.

But on Monday the PM said the Ain Al-Tineh agreement between Amal and the FPM was "not the ideal way" to kick start operations.

"I am concerned with achieving consensus among all parties over the file," Salam said.

More than six years have passed since the ratification of the Offshore Petroleum Resources Law and the government has yet to issue the decrees that would allow for the first licensing round of offshore gas exploration in Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Seismic studies carried out in the last few years have shown that Lebanon has trillions of cubic feet of oil and natural gas in its sea floor, a discovery which boosted international confidence in Lebanon’s economic future.

However, Berri expressed discontent with new obstacles hindering the exploration of the country's oil and gas resources.

He warned that such hurdles "serve Israel." "I am afraid that there are malicious hands working at the behest of Israel and that some Lebanese are serving it. I don't want to accuse anyone, but I don't understand why they are willing to obstruct it to serve Israel," Berri said in remarks to Al-Joumhouria newspaper.

The speaker said that he "would not remain mum" over the matter.

The chair of Parliament's Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee, Beirut MP Mohammad Qabbani, said that "Salam wasn't displeased with Ain Al-Tineh agreement... but he is merely taking time to study its content."

"He doesn't want to kick off the ministerial committee meetings without having formed an opinion."

Qabbani, who is a Future bloc MP, voiced the party's support for the agreement between Amal and the FPM.

The agreement was seen as a breakthrough to the standstill between Amal and the FPM, which has obstructed the approval of two crucial decrees to amend the 2010 oil law to kick start exploration operations.

As far as the two pending draft decrees are concerned, it is no more a secret that three-year discussions inside the ministerial committee in charge of examining them, and between the same committee and the Lebanese Petroleum Administration, have caused the hurdles and long delay in the government approval of the original text submitted by the LPA in 2013.

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