Lebanon joins volatile Med gas scramble

January 10, 2012 by  

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 6 (UPI) — Lebanon has raised the stakes in the high-octane poker game under way in the natural gas-rich eastern Mediterranean by approving a law to administer offshore exploration and drilling, joining Israel, Cyprus and Turkey in a potentially explosive race for energy riches.

The Beirut government laid down the regulations for the emerging energy industry Wednesday.

“If all goes as scheduled,” said Cesar Abi Khalil, an Energy Ministry adviser, “the licensing round will be held this year.

“The companies will have six months to bid and then the winners will be chosen and exploration will begin.”

Energy expert Roudi Baroudi estimates that Lebanon’s reserves total three times those of Libya’s 54 trillion cubic feet. That’s probably a major overestimate. But it’s certain to heighten tension in the region triggered by Israel’s discovery of major gas fields off its coast, a drive by nearby Cyprus to follow suit and Turkey’s threat to send in its navy to stop the other two from joining forces to exploit the region’s energy riches.

On top of this, Beirut claims parts of the Israeli gas fields lie in Lebanese waters. The two countries are technically at war.

Hezbollah, the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Lebanese “resistance movement,” has warned it will repel Israeli efforts to “plunder” what it considers Lebanese energy reserves. Israel has vowed to use force to protect its assets.

Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006 in which Lebanon’s infrastructure was heavily bombed. The seasoned Lebanese fighters battled Israel’s vaunted military to a standstill and claimed a “divine victory.”

Both sides view the inconclusive conflict as unfinished business.

It remains to be seen whether the dispute over the vast natural gas reserves, along with several billion barrels of oil, in the Levant Basin will be the trigger for renewed war.

But the bottom line is the infrastructure Israel is building, including offshore platforms and export terminals, is vulnerable to attack by Hezbollah, and even Syria and Iran.

If Beirut’s drive to get in on the regional energy boom does actually get under way, and that’s a big “if” since the threat of conflict could scare off potential investors, Lebanon will find itself in the same boat.

In theory, that could create a version of the Cold War concept of mutually assured destruction between the United States and the Soviet Union that prevented an atomic Armageddon from 1949-99.

It could, optimists argue, push the adversaries toward some sort of peace agreement.

But after more than 60 years of incessant warfare no one’s holding their breath.

Israel hit pay dirt in 2009-10, when Houston company Nobel Energy and its Israeli partner, Delek Drilling, found gas reserves totaling some 25 tcf — and that figure could increase as the full extent of the finds becomes known.

The main fields are Leviathan, with some 16 tcf of gas and believed to extend northward into Cypriot waters already dubbed the Aphrodite field, and Tamar with 8 tcf.

The prize is immense. The U.S. Geological Survey reported in 2010 that the Levant Basin, contains as much as 123 billion tcf of recoverable gas, the equivalent of 20 billion barrels of oil.

Moving into Cypriot waters takes the thorny issue into the embrace of yet another conflict, the age-old friction between Greece and Turkey and the frontline of that dispute, the divided island of Cyprus which has no energy resources of its own.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 following a short-lived, Athens-engineered coup by supporters of union with Greece. The Turks seized the north and declared the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It’s recognized only by Ankara. The Greek Cypriot administration in the south is universally recognized.

The Turks, led by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claims Nicosia has no right to explore for gas because the Cyprus issue has not been settled.

Add to this that Israel and Turkey, once strong allies, fell out in 2010 and are now bitter rivals, and the animosity just gets worse.

The Greek Cypriots are increasingly aligned with Israel under a plan to jointly export their gas by pipeline to the energy-hungry European Union via Greece, thus sharpening tensions with Turkey.

Nobel Energy, which spearheads exploration off Cyprus as well, has already reported initial indications of at least 7 tcf of gas in Aphrodite.

That’s sure to stir things up.



4 Responses to “Lebanon joins volatile Med gas scramble”

  1. Gary L. Pence on January 11th, 2012 11:34 am

    Unfortunately, these nation’s, except Israel, the same stench of conflicts and royalty disagreements of families and property ownwers in my home state of Louisiana for the last 100 years when large oil companies try to drill and bring prosperity to all concerned on a profitable business forum. Even in this non-conventional warfare threat environ in America, the oil companies have to move on to other interests due to uncontainable backwardness of runaway greed, inexcusable ignorance and naivity of even basic business requirements where all involved end up with MAJOR ZERO…..and quickly broken plans and dreams

  2. dean staples on January 13th, 2012 5:59 am

    STEVE, I can’t help thin king in my mind as I view the picture you have that goes along with this article..ALL the boats and rigs in the water there..I can’t help thinking about the prophecy that is for ASHER..I am quoting from DEUTERONOMY 33 vs 25 which says ASHERS shoes will be like IRON and BRASS..There will be so many drill rigs on the province of ASHER that from a helicopter it will look like the ground is covered in IRON and BRASS(THIS is what they build drill rigs from)>AS we speak no strikes have been made ONSHORE..BUT all it will take is ONE GOOD ONE and ka boom, ASHERS shoes will look like IRON and BRASS..DO you agree??I do..

  3. Bill Bailey on January 23rd, 2012 6:29 am

    The Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey and Israel should do the unthinkable on this: work together to extract the assets through a 3rd party. Israel can guarantee its fuel needs, the Lebanon can use the assets to rebuild its shattered economy, Turkey gets its share, Cyrpus gets the peace plus its cut of the assets. And the UN can fascilitate borders/quotas to regulate the agreement. It’s a step on the road to peace and the equal division of costs benefits all.

    One life spent to protect this asset on either side will be a waste as there can never be an outcome favourable to either side. No side will accept defeat and there will be no way to prove a victory. The assets will still be there tomorrow and the fight would just begin again. The cost in infrastructure and lives will be very high indeed if it comes to blows. And by the time the bodycount is through neither side will have gained a thing except a hunger for revenge. In order to acheive the economic goals all sides want and need they have to make consessions now, openly and verifiably … before it comes to a conflict. It is time to prove that the pen really is mightier than the sword. Better to fight it out in ink than fight it out in blood. The Middle East does not need more gunboat diplomacy.

  4. Sam Osborne. on February 8th, 2012 1:26 pm

    Ah! this explains why the Gaza strip is kept under such tight control.
    the fishermen get shot at even if they get within 2 miles of their Israeli imposed 3 mile limit..
    As for the squabbling over which countries get their hands on all those lovely fossil fuels, with any luck it should kick off world war three.

    If there are any human beings inhabiting this planet in 400 years time, imagine a history lesson where the children learn about all those idiots in the 20-21st century who used up all the fossil fuel reserves. Reserves that took hundreds of thousands of years to create, all gone in two hundred years.

    We shall, no doubt, go down in history as a most short-sighted, selfish and childish group of people, just like kids in a sweetshop.

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