BEIRUT — Expected for almost a month now, the French oil giant TotalEnergies announced Tuesday in a statement that it will launch exploration activities in search of offshore gas in Block 9, which is located in Lebanese territorial waters. The move was decided after the conclusion of the maritime border agreement between Lebanon and Israel on Oct. 27.
TotalEnergies said it had signed, along with its partner Eni of Italy, a "framework agreement" with Israel "to implement the agreement on the maritime border." Without elaborating on the content of the framework agreement, TotalEnergies recalls that it is the "operator" of Block 9 of the Lebanese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in which it holds a 60 percent stake, compared to Eni's 40 percent.
"Following the signing of this framework agreement, the Block 9 partners will launch exploration of an already identified prospect that could extend both into Block 9 and into Israeli waters south of the recently established maritime border," TotalEnergies added, saying it was "proud to be associated with the peaceful definition of a maritime border between Israel and Lebanon.
"By mobilizing our expertise in offshore exploration, we will respond to the request of both countries to assess the materiality of hydrocarbon resources and their productive potential in this area," Patrick Pouyanné, the company's CEO, said in the statement.
However, Pouyanné did not provide any details on the timetable. According to the Lebanese daily Annahar — citing comments attributed to Laurent Vivier, director of exploration and production in the Middle East and North Africa for TotalEnergies — the exploration of the block could be completed by the end of 2023.
Contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, the Ministry of Energy and Water offered no comment.
Reorganization of the consortium
TotalEnergies and Eni form the consortium that won the first contracts in 2018 to explore and exploit the supposed gas reserves that the Lebanese seabed would contain.
The licenses were for Blocks No. 4 (located in the central-eastern part of the EEZ, opposite the coastline of Jbeil and Batroun) and No. 9 (in the south, adjoining the disputed area whose division between Lebanon and Israel was settled by the agreement). The other eight blocks were put into play between 2019 and the end of 2021, without finding a buyer.
Russia's Novatek was previously part of the consortium formed by TotalEnergies and Eni, with a 20 percent stake. It recently sold its stake to the Lebanese state, which then transferred that share to TotalEnergies. The withdrawal was likely linked to Russian-American tensions on the sidelines of the conflict in Ukraine, according to Yeghia Tashjian, a research associate at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at AUB.
TotalEnergies' announcement was expected since the signing of the agreement between Israel and Lebanon, as the operator's communication about Lebanon had been limited to mentioning the reorganization of the consortium, which could count on the possible arrival of QatarEnergy.
At the end of October, Saad al-Kaabi, CEO of the Qatari state-owned energy company, confirmed that QatarEnergy was in discussions with the Lebanese government to take a 30 percent stake in an offshore gas exploration block and was in parallel negotiations on the subject with French group TotalEnergies and Italian group Eni.
Two sources also told Reuters that TotalEnergies and the Lebanese government reached an agreement under which the French group would temporarily take control of the block, paving the way for negotiations with Qatar.
On the Israeli side, the company Energean — which had already begun production of natural gas at the Karish field, located in Israeli waters — confirmed a week ago the potential of two other wells, Zeus and Athena.