A drilling rig [the Transocean Barents] arrived in Lebanon’s Block 9 on Wednesday to begin oil and gas exploration, public works and transport minister Ali Hamie said in a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
The start of drilling offshore Lebanon by a consortium led by France’s TotalEnergies follows a landmark U.S.-brokered agreement last year that delineated the contentious maritime border between Lebanon and Israel to the south.
The consortium includes Italian oil giant ENI and state-owned QatarEnergy.
Lebanon’s Energy Minister Walid Fayad said in May that he expected to know whether there would be a discovery there by the end of the year. ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi said in January that he was “positive” about a discovery there.
Lebanon hopes gas and oil discoveries will help it reverse a crippling economic crisis that has cost the local currency more than 98% of its value, eroded the country's foreign reserves and caused rolling blackouts across towns and cities.
"This is survival (for Lebanon). Hopefully, before the end of the year there will be positive results, and Lebanon becomes an energy producer. This offers a glimmer of hope," Hamie, a cabinet member from the Iran-backed Hezbollah party said in a statement released after his social media post.
The drilling became possible after the United States mediated a deal that set a maritime border between Lebanese and Israeli waters for the first time.
A mechanism for the consortium to exploit possible discoveries that extend south from Block 9 past that border was also established. That exploitation would be done on behalf of Lebanon but with a royalties system set up for Israel.
Lebanon does not recognize Israel's right to exist and still considers itself at war with its neighbor, with laws barring contact with Israeli officials.
(Reuters - Reporting by Maya Geibely; editing by Christina Fincher and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)