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Lebanon extends licensing deadline for gas exploration amid dispute with Israel

Decision comes after Lebanese president presents proposals on disputed maritime border to US energy envoy Hochstein

Energean working in the Karish oil field, offshore Israel, in 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Energean working in the Karish oil field, offshore Israel, in 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s caretaker energy minister on Wednesday extended the licensing deadline for oil and gas companies to explore in the country’s territorial waters until mid-December, to give more firms the chance to bid, state-run news agency reported.

The decision by the minister, Walid Fayad, to extend the deadline of the second round of licensing until Dec. 15 followed a request by the Lebanese Petroleum Administration, the National News Agency said.

In 2017, Lebanon approved licenses for an international consortium by France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek to move forward with offshore oil and gas development for two of 10 blocks in the Mediterranean Sea, including one that is disputed in part with neighboring Israel.

The companies did not find viable amounts of oil and gas in block number 4 north of Beirut, and drilling in block number 9 in the south has been repeatedly postponed because of the maritime border dispute with Israel.

The new round of licensing will cover the remaining eight offshore blocks, the report said. The extension will give additional companies currently not working in Lebanon the chance to prepare their documents in order to apply for licenses. It said such a move would “create an acceptable level of competition between international oil and gas companies.”

Fayad’s decision came a day after Lebanese President Michel Aoun presented suggestions related to the disputed maritime border to the US envoy Amos Hochstein, who is mediating between Lebanon and Israel. The envoy said the suggestions “will enable the negotiations to go forward.”

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with US Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein, center left, at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, June 14, 2022. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

The visit by Hochstein followed an invitation by the Lebanese government after Israel set up a gas rig at its designated location at the Karish field. Israel says the field is part of its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone, while Lebanon insists it is in a disputed area.

Tensions have been rising recently along the border, and Israel and Lebanon’s heavily armed Hezbollah terror group have exchanged threats over the border dispute.

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