Qatar ‘interested’ in exploring Lebanon’s Qana field: minister

Lebanon is currently in need of gas as it grapples with a worsening socio-economic situation.

Qatar has expressed interest in joining other companies in the exploration of Lebanon’s Qana field following a US-brokered maritime agreement, Beirut’s cabinet said on on Friday.

In a tweet, the Lebanese government cited Caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayyad saying that Qatar was interested in oil in Blocks 4 and 9.

Fayyad said Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad Al-Kaabi “announced the intentions” to join a consortium of companies in exploring the fields. If a deal is reached, the Gulf state would join France’s Total and Italy’s Eni.

“We know Qatar’s investment capacity and desire, which it announced through various visits by its ambassador to the ministry to invest in Lebanon’s economic advancement in the oil and gas sector,” the Lebanese cabinet added.

The Lebanese official also expressed his appreciation to the Gulf state for investing in its resources and helping boost its economy. 

Authorities in Doha have not yet commented on plans to join the consortium.

However, the latest development comes after Lebanon and Israel reached an agreement brokered by the US over a maritime border dispute dating back to 2007. Doha previously welcomed Washington’s mediation efforts, expressing its readiness to support the crisis-hit nation.

“Qatar welcomes the progress made in the mediation led by the United States to establish the maritime borders of Lebanon, which would enable Lebanon to explore and export LNG [liquified natural gas] from its territorial waters and enhance regional peace and security,” said Qatar’s foreign ministry in a statement on 2 October.

The issue

The border demarcation issue dates back to 2007, when Lebanon and Cyprus signed an agreement to delimit their maritime border. However, Lebanon never ratified the agreement, which made it non-binding.

Israel and Cyprus then signed in 2010 an agreement over the same zones mentioned in the agreement signed by Beirut and Nicosia. Unlike Cyprus, Lebanon has no diplomatic ties with Israel and refuses to normalise with the Zionist state.

The occupying state of Israel had also waged a deadly war on Lebanon for several years. 

In 2017, Lebanon inked a gas exploration and production agreement with various companies, including France’s Total. 

The agreement triggered the border crisis to resurface as the French company refused to begin operations on Block 9 – situated in the disputed zone – until the maritime issue was resolved. 

Lebanon is currently in need of gas as it grapples with a worsening socio-economic situation that was made worse by the Covid-19 outbreak and 2020 Beirut blast. The population has limited electricity access with long lines of cars stretched outside gas stations becoming a norm.

In 2011, then-US envoy mediator between Beirut and Tel Aviv Frederic Hof presented a compromise to former Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati to give Lebanon 55% of the area and the remaining 45% to Israel.

During the same year, Lebanon issued Decree 6433 to the UN to claim Line 23, which does not fall on the Karish field. To date, Israel maintains that the field is in its economic zone.

Following studies by the UK Hydrographic Office and Lebanese Army, Lebanon found it can claim an additional 1,430 square km of the area, known as Line 29.

New agreement

The historic agreement has yet to come into effect as it awaits the approval of both Lebanon and Israel.

AFP reported on Friday that the agreement would grant Tel Aviv rights over the Karish gas field while Lebanon will have the full right to operate and explore the Qana field.

However, Israel would receive profits “for its rights to any potential deposits”, reported the news agency, citing the text of the agreement. A decision on the matter would be further discussed in talks between Israel and Lebanon’s Block 9 operator.

“Israel and the Block 9 Operator will sign a financial agreement prior to the Block 9 Operator’s Final Investment Decision,” the agreement says, as quoted by AFP.

Energy exports speaking to the French news agency said that the provision over the Israeli remuneration is “dangerous” as it would provide it with rights over stopping the development of the Qana field.

“This means that if they do not want Lebanon to extract any gas, they got a window in this border deal,” energy expert Suhail Shatila told the news agency.

Leader of Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, approved the deal last week, though he warned the movement would be “vigilant” until Lebanon announces its decision.

In July, Hezbollah warned of a military escalation in response to the Israeli ship’s violation of its maritime territories. The movement vowed to prevent Israel from extracting hydrocarbons if it does not allow Lebanon to do so.

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