Offshore exploration could, finally, soon be on the agenda in Lebanon after the country's first offshore licensing round was opened.
Lebanon’s Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil announced on 26 January the opening and timetable for the round. Five blocks have been opened for bidding: 1, 4, 8, 9, 10. Final agreements are expected to be published on 15 November, according to a timetable set out by the minister.
Lebanon has come late to the offshore exploration game in the eastern Mediterranean, which has seen massive discoveries made offshore Israel, with which Lebanon has a long-running border dispute, Cyprus recently holding its third exploration round, and the huge Zohr discovery in nearby Egypt, discovered in 2015.
According to geoscience firm Spectrum offshore Lebanon could be the "most exciting part of the Eastern Mediterranean for exploration.
The firm says: "Offshore Lebanon lies in the extension of the prolific South Levant basin, which contains the giant gas fields of Tamar and Leviathan. 30 Tcf of gas lies in accumulations that run up to the border; however offshore Lebanon has never been drilled.
US Geological Survey estimates from 2010 placed the potential mean recoverable resources in the Levant Basin at 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 122 Tcf of natural gas."
Lebanon's first round has been repeatedly delayed. Some 43 companies pre-qualified in 2013, only for the process to be stalled by political paralysis in Lebanon. Those companies will be eligible to bid this time round, the ministry said.
Lebanon offshore round timeline:
Consultancy Middle East Strategic Perspectives says that the Lebanese government is still discussing the petroleum tax law. But, this is expected to be submitted to the Parliament for final approval in a matter of weeks.
"Hopefully the political class will not be tempted to drag the process on. It is important this time around to have a complete framework before inviting companies to place bids," says the firm.
According to the US' Energy Information Administration (EIA), Lebanon's energy ministry already delayed the bid round for the 10 offshore blocks several times, in part due to issues surrounding the demarcation of the southern boundary of Lebanese territorial waters.
The dispute over the shared maritime boundary could affect Lebanon's ability to proceed with its offshore development plans, the EIA says.
Spectrum says: "Intriguingly, the Northern Levantine Basin is deeper than the southern part of the basin and in excess of 10,000m of Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments are clear on seismic. In this deep basin, the Oligocene and Eocene source rock is buried deep enough to mature oil, making this potentially the most exciting part of the Eastern Mediterranean for exploration."