On January 8, caretaker Minister of Energy and Water Gebran Bassil again delayed the first licensing round for offshore oil and gas exploration — perhaps the biggest hope for Lebanon’s static economy. The reason was the same as the two previous times it had been delayed since September — two decrees need to be signed to allow the round to move forward. Political infighting has prevented the cabinet meeting to do so, thus Bassil has been forced to keep pushing back the bid.
But while this was old ground, this time there was a twist. Setting a new date of April 10, Bassil was adamant that “the [new] deadline is a final one.” He did not specify exactly what he meant by this, but this ambiguity has led some to interpret that if a cabinet has not been formed by April the minister will attempt to push through a move without the necessary decrees.
How far he could get without full cabinet approval is unclear. He certainly could not finalize any deal, as Lebanon’s 2010 Offshore Petroleum Law explicitly declares that any final agreement must be passed by decree. This procedure is supported by Article 89 in the Lebanese constitution which states: “No contract or concession for the exploitation of the natural resources of the country… may be granted except by virtue of a law and for a limited period.” Carole Nakhle, an energy economist at the Surrey Energy Economics Centre, explained, “the Offshore Petroleum [Resources] Law plainly states that the decrees should be approved by the Council of Ministers.”