TotalEnergies is keen to start work on Lebanon's offshore Block 9 "as soon as possible", with assessments to begin early next month and well-drilling to launch in the third quarter of 2023, its CEO Patrick Pouyanne said on Sunday.
Pouyanne was speaking at a joint news conference in Beirut after signing a three-way consortium deal with QatarEnergy and Eni to explore oil and gas in two maritime blocks off the coast of Lebanon known as Blocks 4 and 9.
Following months of talks, QatarEnergy has taken a 30% stake in the consortium, leaving TotalEnergies and Eni with 35% each.
Lebanon hopes discoveries will help it reverse a crippling economic crisis that has cost the local currency more than 97% of its value, eroded the country's foreign reserves and caused rolling blackouts across towns and cities.
Pouyanne said a vessel would arrive in Lebanese waters on Feb. 6 to carry out an environmental survey in Block 9, "and we plan to drill during the third quarter of the year."
The CEO of Eni, Claudio Descalzi, said the exploration could offer a "big opportunity" for Lebanon as the world was facing a major lack of gas.
"From a geological point of view, I am positive" about a discovery in Lebanon's Block 9, Descalzi told reporters.
"We have to hope and pray that it is a real and material one," he said.
Pouyanne and Qatar's energy minister Saad al-Kaabi, also the CEO of QatarEnergy, said they were discussing possible coordination on renewable energy in Lebanon.
Lebanon's first licensing round in 2017 saw a consortium of TotalEnergies, Eni and Russia's Novatek win bids to explore.
Novatek pulled out in September 2022, leaving its stake in the hands of the Lebanese government. The following month, Lebanon and Israel agreed to a landmark agreement brokered by the United States to delineate their long-disputed maritime border.
Block 9 lies adjacent to the newly delineated border with Israel. According to the agreement, if discoveries are made in a field that extends south of that border, they would also be exploited by the consortium on behalf of Lebanon but with a royalties system set up for Israel.
Total and Israel have agreed a separate deal for any revenues generated from there.
Pouyanne said the maritime border agreement had ended the "deadlock" facing exploration activities in Block 9.
(Reuters - Reporting by Maya Gebeily; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Alison Williams)