How Gebran Bassil Introduced Oil and Gas Exploration in Lebanon–Ten Years Ago!

As soon as Lebanon’s president inaugurated Lebanon’s first offshore exploratory drilling for oil and gas on February 27, that critics from different factions and political parties started slandering and vilifying the historic achievement. The general consensus was primarily to repudiate the efforts (and success) of President Michel Aoun and Former Minister Gebran Bassil to launch oil and gas exploration in Lebanon.

Unfortunately for all cynics, facts reveal a totally different reality. In April 2012, (then) Minister of Energy and Water had introduced Lebanon’s First Offshore Exploration Project¹ during the AAPG Convention and Exhibition in Long Beach, California. The presentation comprised the licensing preparation (legislative, administrative, and technical), resources (Law 132: levels of governance, EPA conditions), regulations (fiscal system and economic terms), administration (Council of Ministers, Minister of Energy and Water, Petroleum Administration), technical progress and achievements (2D/3D seismic data acquisition, interpretation studies and assessment), geophysical data set, 2011 regional baseline interpretation report, and basin modeling (simulated migration of oil and gas).

On July 3, 2012, under the auspices of Minister of Energy and Gebran Bassil, Lebanon International Petroleum Exploration Forum & Exhibition was held in Beirut, Lebanon, hosting 180 local and international companies from 36 different countries visited the exhibition. The forum was dedicated for the oil and Gas Exploration fields in Lebanon. 

The government of Lebanon had passed legislation in 2010 to spur offshore exploration. But two key parts of it were left unsigned when Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his cabinet resigned in March of 2013. Minister Bassil had urged the caretaker cabinet to sign the decrees. It didn’t. In April 2013, Bassil completed a pre-qualification bid for exploration in territorial waters. 52 companies applied for the pre-qualification and 46 of those had their applications accepted. The formal licensing round began in May 2013. In February of 2014, Gebran Bassil was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants. Subsequently, the Ministry of Water and Energy postponed its first auction of licenses for offshore oil and gas exploration.

It wasn’t until 2017 that Lebanon launched the process of licensing its oil and gas reserves, with the passing of two decrees mapping out the conditions for auctioning energy assets, and the passing of a draft petroleum tax law laying out payment terms for future licensees. (Then) Minister of Energy and Water and FPM Activist Cesar Abi Khalil signed the agreements in February 2018, following evaluation and approval, with terms that will see the state receive revenues of between 65 and 71 per cent for Block 4 (30 Kilometers off the shore of Beirut), and between 55 and 63 per cent for Block 9 (near the Israeli border).

On December 13, 2019, (then) Minister of Energy and Water Nada Boustani and FPM Activist granted Total the license to drill Lebanon’s first well in block 4 and announced the launch of Lebanon’s second licensing round for offshore oil and gas exploration in five blocks. On February 25, Total’s Tungsten Explorer drilling vessel reached the exclusive economic zone in Lebanon to drill a well in Block 4 in the FIRST oil and gas exploration activity in Lebanon’s territorial waters.

Unfortunately, in Lebanon, every project has to turn into a political tug of war… It is simple: Opponents of Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of President Michel Aoun and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, don’t wish to give him a victory—even a legitimate and noteworthy one that might bring wealth and prosperity to the country. It is expected though, since energy could one day be a profitable business in Lebanon and each faction wants a piece of it.