BEIRUT — The TransOcean Barents drilling rig, which will begin gas exploration in Lebanon's offshore Block 9, has "arrived at the drilling point," caretaker Public Works Minister Ali Hamieh announced on Wednesday morning.
Hamieh's announcement aligns with information in a statement by TotalEnergies sent to L'Orient Today.
Chartered by TotalEnergies on behalf of the consortium it formed with Italy's ENI and QatarEnergy, the TransOcean Barents platform will drill an exploration well in Block 9 of Lebanon's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), off the Lebanese coast near Sour in South Lebanon.
'An important step'
In a press release sent to L'Orient Today, TotalEnergies announced "the arrival of the drilling rig, Transocean Barents, on the block, at around 120 km off the coast of Beirut, and the first helicopter at Beirut Airport. This helicopter, contracted by TotalEnergies EP Block 9 and operated by Gulf Helicopters, will transport the teams to the drilling rig."
"The arrival of the equipment marks an important step in the preparation of the drilling of the exploration well in Block 9, which will begin towards the end of August 2023," TotalEnergies said.
Several media outlets reported on Wednesday that Hamieh and caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayad had "inspected the logistical base at the Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport," which will be used to provide services to the drilling platform in Block 9 via helicopter transfer.
'Two or three months'
Quoted by local media outlets, Fayad said that Lebanese authorities "will know the results of the drilling and exploration in two or three months." Fayad remarked to Al Jadeed TV channel that Lebanon's authorities had been "told by Eni and Total that the oil well is commercial."
Hamieh, for his part, commented from the airport, "We hope that Lebanon will become an oil country."
Speaking to Al Jadeed, Hamieh said that the helicopter route dedicated to providing services to the drilling platform has been named Line 96 "in memory of the martyrs of Qana."
On April 18, 1996, 106 civilians were killed in an Israeli bombardment while they sheltered in a UNIFIL base in Qana, South Lebanon.
At the end of July, a source at the Lebanese Petroleum Administration told L’Orient Today that "the [ship] will need to prepare for 10 days before it can start drilling for an exploration well in Block 9."
The same source added that "the process will take around two months before it’s clear whether Lebanon can start extracting and producing natural gas from the block."
On Wednesday, caretaker Environment Minister Nasser Yassin approved the environmental impact study for drilling in Block 9, according to an official document seen by L'Orient-Le Jour.
He also asked the Energy Ministry to ensure that employees of the TotalEnergies consortium follow the recommendations of his ministry and present the results of their work within a month.
The report on the environmental impact on Block 9 of the various phases of the planned exploration and drilling activities was prepared by the firm RSK Environment at the request of TotalEnergies. It was made available to the public at the end of May.
Located off the coast of southern Lebanon, Block 9 is one of a series of potential gas fields that also includes Block 4 off Batroun, for which Lebanon awarded the first-ever exploitation licenses in 2018 to a consortium comprising France's TotalEnergies, Italy's Eni and Russia's Novatek.
The exploration process for Block 4 was launched in 2020, and the results of the first drilling well detected the presence of gas, but not in sufficient quantities to justify a production startup.
Exploration of Block 9 was initially delayed by a dispute between Lebanon and Israel over the delimitation of their maritime border, which was later resolved with an agreement signed between the two countries last October.
In the meantime, the consortium has changed faces with the departure of Novatek last September — an indirect consequence of the war in Ukraine — and the arrival of QatarEnergy in January.