High Hopes for Lebanon Untapped Oil, Gas Reserves

High Hopes for Lebanon Untapped Oil, Gas ReservesHigh Hopes for Lebanon Untapped Oil, Gas Reserves

In a country blighted by power cuts and poor infrastructure – and struggling under the impact of the Syrian war across its border -- Lebanon is hopeful that untapped oil and gas reserves may offer some relief.

Although proper exploration of the possible reserves is being stymied by the present situation, estimates have suggested revenue from the reserves could yield as much as $600 billion, VoA reported Sunday. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who once served as Lebanon's energy minister, has claimed such a find would help bring economic independence to the country, enabling it to enter “the club of oil states” and improve life for its citizens.

For Lebanese Center for Policy Studies [LCPS] director Sami Atallah, whose organization is keeping a close eye on developments, the benefits of any discovery are far from guaranteed. He said that while a properly regulated oil-and-gas industry could lead to a “new dawn” for Lebanon, it also could have the opposite effect. Mona Sukkarieh, co-founder of Middle East Strategic Perspectives, said these organizations in Lebanon already have started to scrutinize the process and are “expected to take increased interest in petroleum issues.” They are likely to “gradually become more autonomous,” she said, “with the availability of foreign funding representing a real incentive to get more and more involved.”

With local media paying an increasingly close interest in the situation, local organizations such as LCPS are joining forces to engage with energy sector authorities and possibly form a single organization to oversee the energy sector.

Among those backing the move are the Norwegian and British governments, the latter of which is providing funding of about $115,000. “We will need a lot of expertise, but we are seeing a high amount of interest,” Atallah said. “As for our ability to influence things, we will have to resort to all sorts of tools or ways to penetrate the system in order to influence it.”

The Petroleum Administration of Lebanon [LPA], which was set up by the government in 2012 to oversee the process, initially surprised many with its transparency and effective handling of the early stages of processing energy company bids to explore possible reserves. But while the LPA has engaged with civil society groups, Middle East Strategic Perspectives’ Sukkarieh said, the impact of these civil society groups on the political process is “relatively limited.”