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Lebanon Oil Bid Round Lures Mainly U.S. Explorers, Minister Says

Lebanon’s oil and gas licensing round has attracted more companies from the U.S. than anywhere else, Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said today as he opened the qualifying stage.

Twenty-nine U.S. companies have purchased geophysical data covering the exploration area in the eastern Mediterranean, making the nation “the first-ranked country by far,” Bassil said. “Around 25 percent of the data bought is by U.S. companies,” he said, declining to identify any.

Lebanon, which passed an oil law in 2010 and named a six-member petroleum board in November, is opening up prospects for exploration as it seeks revenue to cut $56 billion of debt, the most in the Arab world at 135 percent of annual economic output. It follows neighboring Israel and Cyprus, an island across the East Mediterranean Sea, in tapping the area for resources.

Pre-qualification for offshore licensing ends March 28 and eligible companies will be notified by April 18, Bassil said. Bidding will start in May and continue for six months, with the first exploration and production agreement signed next February.

Lebanon may start to develop offshore prospects in 2016, the minister said. The Energy Ministry also plans to make an “important announcement” on onshore exploration next week, he said, without elaborating.

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