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French, Italian energy firms sign deal with Israel on gas field shared with Lebanon

France’s TotalEnergies and hydrocarbon giant ENI to begin exploration in formerly disputed area straddling maritime border between Jewish state and its northern neighbor

Chairman and CEO of TotalEnergies Patrick Pouyanne arrives at the Elysee Palace for a meeting with France's president and representatives of France's 50 largest greenhouse gas emitting industrial sites, in Paris, on November 8, 2022. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)
Chairman and CEO of TotalEnergies Patrick Pouyanne arrives at the Elysee Palace for a meeting with France's president and representatives of France's 50 largest greenhouse gas emitting industrial sites, in Paris, on November 8, 2022. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

TotalEnergies and Italian hydrocarbon concern ENI have signed a framework agreement with Israel over a gas field shared with Lebanon, the French energy giant said Tuesday.

It comes after Lebanon and Israel said in October that they had struck a “historic” deal to resolve a maritime border dispute involving offshore gas fields after years of US-mediated talks.

The same month, Lebanon asked TotalEnergies to kickstart gas exploration off its shores.

TotalEnergies said that after signing the agreement it “will initiate the exploration of an already identified prospect which might extend both in block 9 and into Israel waters south of the recently established maritime borderline.”

Lebanon divided its exclusive economic zone at sea into 10 “blocks,” and block 9 was part of the area disputed with Israel.

TotalEnergies holds a 60 percent stake in block 9, while ENI holds 40 percent.

Under the terms of the maritime border agreement between Israel and Lebanon, the latter has full rights to operate and explore the so-called Qana or Sidon reservoir in block 9, parts of which fall in Israel’s territorial waters, with the Jewish state receiving some revenues.

“By bringing our expertise in offshore exploration, we will respond to the request of both countries to assess the materiality of hydrocarbon resources and production potential in this area,” said Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of TotalEnergies.

With demand for gas rising worldwide because of the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Lebanon hopes exploiting the offshore field will help ease its economic crisis.

A day before the border pact was signed, London-based gas company Energean said it had begun extracting from Israel’s Karish field, which also lies in the formerly disputed area.

Energean’s floating production system (FPSO) at the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea. (Energean)

Before the recent maritime border agreement was reached between Israel and Lebanon, the terror group Hezbollah — which launched drones toward Karish in July — had threatened attacks if Israel proceeded with gas extraction from Karish.

Under the agreement, Israel will receive recognition for its buoy-marked boundary five kilometers (3.1 miles) off the coast of the northern town of Rosh Hanikra, which it established in 2000. After that, Israel’s border will follow the southern edge of the disputed area known as Line 23.

Lebanon will enjoy the economic benefits of the area north of Line 23, including the Qana gas field, while Israel will move ahead with gas production at the Karish field and will receive revenues from Qana if and when it begins operations.

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