lebanese energy minister walid fayad qatari counterpart saad al kaabi is qatarenergy chief executive

Qatar joins Lebanon gas exploration consortium

Lebanon announced on Sunday that Qatar had entered into a consortium to explore offshore gas in waters near Israel, following a historic border deal last year between the two foes.

The deal greenlights Lebanon’s exploration of the southern Qana Reservoir, or Sidon, following last October’s signing of the historic accord demarcating its maritime borders with Israel’s longtime enemy.

According to Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Sunday’s deal will see the gas-rich Gulf country’s state-run QatarEnergy receive a 30% minority stake in two blocks of Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone.

French company TotalEnergies and Italy’s Eni will both retain 35% stakes in the blocks after Russia’s Novatek divests its minority stake in 2022.

Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayad and his Qatari counterpart Saad al-Kaabi, who is also the chief executive officer of QatarEnergy, signed the deal on Sunday, together with the heads of Eni and TotalEnergies.

Kaabi said in a press conference following the signing ceremony that Qatar’s involvement was “an opportunity to support Lebanon’s economic development”.

Lebanon has been caught in an economic quagmire that has plunged much of its population into poverty and has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history.

TotalEnergies’ Patrick Pouyanne said he expected the Qana project’s exploration phase to be completed “within the next 12 months,” expressing hope that the work would lead to hydrocarbon discovery.

‘Guarantee Policy’

Under a US-brokered deal, Lebanon and Israel, which are officially still at war, demarcated their maritime borders in October last year.

The deal paved the way for Lebanon to begin exploration in the Qana Reservoir – which lies partly within Israeli territorial waters – in exchange for compensatory payments.

Speaking in October after finalizing the demarcation agreement, then Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Israel would be entitled to 17% of Qana’s proceeds.

“Qatar’s entry into the consortium is above all politically significant,” according to energy consultant Naji Abi Aad.

He told AFP that Doha’s involvement “carries a political guarantee” as Lebanon grapples with its multiple crises.

But analysts agree that it will take several years for Beirut to start exploiting the Qana field, should a commercially viable discovery be made.

“We need an infrastructure to export gas, which currently does not exist”, explained Abi Aad, adding that the construction of a coastal gas pipeline would be necessary for the possible domestic use of energy reserves.

Israel already supplies gas to its neighbors Egypt and Jordan, and in June it signed an agreement to liquefy the gas using Egyptian infrastructure in order to deliver it to Europe by shipment.