The Lebanese Government opened the first oil and gas licensing round for offshore drilling and exploration in the east Mediterranean on 30 April.

Caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil was quoted by The Daily Star, a Beirut-based pan-Middle East newspaper, as saying: "The energy minister is authorized to extend the bidding period [for a duration of time] equal to the time lost, if the two decrees are not issued by the Cabinet before [September] 2."

The decrees, which demarcate the ten offshore exploration blocks and form a revenue-sharing model, have to be passed by the Cabinet before any contracts are awarded.

Around 46 international energy firms prequalified in the beginning of April to bid for offshore hydrocarbon exploration contracts in the country.

Bassil said there will be a consultation phase until September, where the prequalified companies can confer with the government about the blocks they are interested in bidding for. The minister said that during the first phase, all the blocks will be open for bidding, while the Petroleum Administration will reduce the number of blocks and ultimately award only four blocks.

"Around 46 international energy firms prequalified in the beginning of April to bid for offshore hydrocarbon exploration contracts."

Petroleum Administration head, Assem Abou Ibrahim, was quoted by the publication as saying the government has limited the first round to four blocks to improve the state’s position in future negotiations with oil and gas firms.

Energy expert, Rudi Baroudi, said: "The existence of oil and gas needs to be verified. Drilling offshore exploratory wells is the only way to test hydrocarbon potential in the Lebanese Basin."

"Several identified prospects could be small in size, in deepwater locations, and would be uneconomic to drill and operate unless production from several nearby fields is combined," Baroudi added.

Lebanon has decided to demarcate relatively large blocks, ranging from 1,259km to 2,374km, based on a scientific approach to consider the high risk environment.

Lebanese administrative member Wissam Shbat said: "We are dealing with a case where drilling might happen to depths exceeding 2,000 metres and where the discovery of wells could cost well above $120m."

Seismic surveys have showed high prospects of oil discoveries off Lebanon’s coast, which were estimated to be around 145 million barrels of oil, in addition to natural gas.

Image: Lebanon plans to open ten offshore exploration blocks during the first phase of bidding and award four blocks. Photo courtesy of Heretiq.