LOGI prompts Transboundary Cooperation towards Reduction of Environmental Risks Emanating from Oil and Gas Exploration in the East Mediterranean
With Lebanon signing its first Exploration and Production Agreements for oil and gas exploration in its offshore, it has officially embarked on the long road of exploiting its potentially commercial natural resources.
Unlike onshore exploration, offshore exploration is more complex in more than one sense. Besides the technical, financial and logistical challenges that Lebanon is bound to face, there is the vital aspect of transboundary issues that many countries find themselves facing. Maritime boarder disputes, environmental transboundary scenarios, risk managements, and liabilities are amongst the few issues that can be cited with many examples to be used as supporting evidence.
Moreover, the East Mediterranean (East-Med) region has been notorious for its political, and socio-economic instability. With the superpowers of yesterday and today intent on marking their territories around the region, very little in the form of stability can be hoped for.
In the last decade, oil and gas exploration in the East-Med region has become increasingly attractive to companies, especially after the start of the slow but sure decline of oil and gas production in the North Sea. While several Mediterranean offshore regions are attracting explorers, it is in the east that some of the biggest hydrocarbon discoveries of the last decade have been made. Huge gas finds in Occupied Palestinian, Cypriot and Egyptian waters have seen industry eyes turn to the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, which, according to a 2010 estimate by the US Geological Survey, could hold as much as 122 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas in total, equivalent to the reserves of Iraq. Expectedly, gas in the Eastern Mediterranean has turned into a new vessel for undercurrent geopolitical tensions. Competition over market acquisition, exploration rights, as well as territorial ownership of resource right blocks of waters are now marking this new era of oil and gas exploration in the East Med region. Such a situation paints indeed a jeopardous picture that requires immediate action. The use of natural resources in the East-Med should be viewed as a tool for trust-building amongst societies and states. Instead of creating new divisions and conflicts, East-Med gas needs to play a role in bringing the different societies together. Hydrocarbon wealth, if managed with an inclusive, participatory and collective approach could be used to achieve relevant SDG goals (1, 3, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, and 17). Discussions about the sustainable use of the revenues, the protection of the environment, and the reduction of climate change should be organized in a participatory manner.
The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI) saw a need for an inclusive dialogue within the societies of the riparian states of the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Therefore, on the 8th and 9th of November 2018, LOGI organized a 2-day regional meeting involving experts and state representatives from Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt aiming to create a much-needed platform for collaboration and coordination. LOGI’s objective was to allow East-Med countries to start issue-based conversations namely focusing on trans-boundary aspects. The topics discussed during the two days were:
1. Transboundary Environmental Impacts of the offshore oil and gas exploration
2. Cooperation in Emergency preparedness and response
3. Prevention of major accidents in the East-Med
4. Common environmental policies in the East-Med (discharge of drilling fluids and cuttings, management of produced water, BAT in the oil and gas sector. Etc.)
5. Transboundary cooperation in waste management
6. Capacity building and knowledge transfer in environmental management for environmental regulators in the East-Med
7. Environmental monitoring
8. Research in deep water ecosystems
During these two days, East-Med countries shared best practices, experiences and numerous lessons around exploration and production activities. A consensus was reached around the need to move to more official discussion tracks. Several significant action steps were recommended as ways forward, namely:
To conclude, LOGI is confident that this initial but much needed step that was carried on by it has paved the way to a more structured and very much needed form of future trans-boundary cooperation. Reduction of environmental risks resulting from exploration in the East-Med needs to remain a top priority for all East-Med countries.