Lebanon Cabinet Approves Qualifying Round for Energy Exploration

Lebanon approved conditions for companies to bid in the nation’s first offshore oil and natural gas licensing round as it seeks to catch up with neighbors Israel and Cyprus in developing fuel reserves.

The decision was made today at a weekly cabinet meeting, Information Minister Walid Daouk told reporters after the session in Beirut.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Cairn Energy Plc and Cove Energy Plc are among companies expressing interest in bidding for a license. OAO Lukoil is interested and is holding talks on possible Lebanese offshore projects, Interfax said Jan. 23, citing CEO Vagit Alekperov.

A list of qualified explorers is expected to be issued by March 31 and they can place bids starting May 2 for six months, Minister of Social Affairs Wael Bou Faour said Dec. 27. Exploration will proceed in waters close to those of Israel and Cyprus, where Noble Energy Inc. found gas. The Leviathan field, discovered in 2010 in Israel’s deep waters, was the world’s largest find of its kind in a decade.

Lebanon, which passed an oil and gas law in 2010 and appointed a six-member petroleum board in November, faced political divisions that have delayed action on energy exploration. Revenues from oil and gas reserves may help reduce its debt burden, the largest in the Arab world. The country is running a debt of $56 billion, equivalent to 135 percent of its annual economic output.