BEIRUT: Lebanon delayed until April its first offshore gas licensing round for a third time yesterday after politicians repeatedly failed to form a government that could approve the bidding process, its energy minister said.
Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, however, vowed to proceed with the next proposed bidding round, with or without a fully functioning government.
Forty-six companies have pre-qualified to bid for gas exploration, but months of political gridlock have led to repeated delays and Lebanon’s estimated 96 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas reserves remain unexploited.
Thanking companies for continuing to show interest in the nascent gas sector despite the delays, Bassil told reporters the bidding round was postponed from January 10 to April 10.
“As far as I am concerned as minister of energy and water, this is the last time I will delay the tender,” he said, adding the ministry may launch bidding on its own if no new government had formed and the current caretaker government failed to do so.
Lebanon has been run by a caretaker administration since Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned last March, and political squabbling has blocked the formation of a new government.
Last month Bassil told an oil and gas summit that the political conflict could undermine the country’s energy sector and international credibility if it dragged on.
He reiterated those concerns on Wednesday, but also said the delay could give more time to those companies that have said they needed it in order to prepare to participate.
“It is a sad thing that Lebanon is delaying this tender for the third time, and it will certainly lead to a lack of trust and a lack of seriousness among the companies,” Bassil said. “It will do significant harm and history will not forgive those who caused it.”
Lebanon’s caretaker administration has failed to launch the bidding process, arguing that its powers should remain limited.
Developing the energy sector would be a boon for the tiny Mediterranean country’s economy, which has suffered since Syria’s civil war has hit tourism, trade and investment.