While the political class has done nothing to move forward on exploring for potential offshore oil and gas reserves in the past year, Lebanese civil society organizations are taking more of an interest in the emerging sector.
“If you had asked me this question [about civil society interest in oil and gas] nine months ago, I would have told you it’s an emerging interest, it’s still too early,” Diana Kaissy, Lebanon representative of the international NGO Publish What You Pay, told NOW. “But I can tell you now the interest is there more and more. And even if you look at the media in general, more and more studies and ‘Q-and-A’s’ are coming out. People are asking questions.”
Lebanon has flirted with the idea of being an oil and gas producer for decades. Prior to the country’s 15-year civil war, prospectors even drilled several on-shore exploration holes in hopes of finding crude. Those efforts were for naught, and in recent years attention shifted offshore.
In 2010, Lebanon’s parliament approved an offshore exploration and production law. In the following years, more regulations for the sector were drafted and approved. Additionally, in late 2012, then-Minister of Energy and Water Gebran Bassil announced the formation of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), the sector’s governing body.
2013 at one point looked like it would be the year to embark on Lebanon’s oil and gas dreams. Under Bassil, the LPA held a prequalification round for international oil and gas companies interested in drilling Lebanon’s waters. The regulator – and the Ministry of Energy – planned to launch the first offshore licensing round on May 2, 2103.
However, before the months-long bidding period could begin, cabinet needed to approve two decrees delineating offshore exploration blocks and approving a model exploration and production sharing agreement to be signed by Lebanon and whichever companies won rights to explore the country’s waters.
Prior to both the bid round’s launch and the approval of the decrees, former Prime Minister Najib Miqati resigned, collapsing the cabinet and ushering in a nearly year-long period without a government.
During this time, the LPA has been busy drafting regulations and holding meetings with various stakeholders, among other things. Most of the LPA’s decisions, however, require cabinet approval so actual progress in the oil and gas sector has been minimal.
That said, Lebanon’s oil and gas potential has drawn the interest of the wider world. Last year, 52 companies applied to pre-qualify to bid for exploration and production rights. 46 made the cut.
On top of that, foreign money has been coming in to aid civil society organizations keen to monitor the sector and push for transparency in an industry many link – rightly or wrongly – with corruption and back-room deals.
Mona Sukkarieh, an analyst with the local consultancy Middle East Strategic Perspectives, told NOW in an email exchange that local civil society organizations need “more training” on oil and gas issues and noted that this “explains the availability of foreign funding, whether from international organizations, foreign NGOs or foreign governmental institutions.”
She noted that foreign NGOs – like Publish What You Pay, and others – have been “instrumental” in helping train local civil society groups on how to approach the sector.
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