Lebanon’s oil and gas venture: How much does the public actually know?
The approval of two decrees by the Lebanese government on offshore oil and gas exploration earlier this year opened the biddings on five out of ten of the seawater blocks.
Becoming increasingly concerned with the widening knowledge gap of Lebanon’s oil and gas sector and its governance, Critical Energy decided to examine this observation by running a preliminary survey on a small sample of 400 participants.
It wasn’t so surprising to learn, for example, that almost two thirds of our sample believe that the Lebanese government’s actions with regards to oil and gas has been lacking transparency; and 75 percent do not actually trust the government to properly manage the sector. While this could, in part, be attributed to the already existing state of distrust between the public and the political system, these numbers illustrate the need for serious measures that showcase the government’s will to promote transparency and accountability.
While the impact of existing and planned production activities in neighboring countries’ such as Israel and Cyprus on Lebanon’s resources is yet to be fully examined, at least technically, around 72 percent of our sample seem to agree that Lebanon’s petroleum reserves are threatened by such activities. It should be noted that Lebanon shares a disputed zone of 870 square kilometers with the Israeli territorial waters, over which blocks 8, 9 and 10 coincide.
According to Former Minister of Water and Energy, Gebran Bassil, it is estimated that Lebanese waters enclose about 96 trillion cubic feet of gas and 865 million barrels of oil in its reservoirs. However, further studies that have been conducted suggest that the estimates are not final. It is too early to give numbers based on seismic data before the drilling processes commence, which will narrow down several uncertainties including reserves.
44 percent of the sample were neutral or not sure of the existence of reserves estimates. On the other hand, around 35 percent think that the government has no accurate data on the size of recoverable oil and gas present in the sea.
As the investment in the oil and gas sector is expected to raise confidence in the Lebanese economy, almost 71 percent believe that the oil and gas sector will positively influence the overall economy. This attitude may stem from the belief that having a new source of national income may still translate in some positivity, despite widely perceived corruption and inefficiencies.
Though the Lebanese Petroleum Authority (LPA) was established back in 2012, the survey showed that more than half of the surveyed sample are not aware of either the presence or the authorities of the LPA. In spite of its sectarian formation, the LPA could still play an important role of building Lebanon’s capacity to engage with international partners and forge effective policies.
The results of the poll are an indication that immediate actions should be taken to bridge the knowledge gap between the Lebanese public and a small circle of politicians on the oil and gas file. The Lebanese public is clearly doubtful but also hopeful. Lebanon’s oil and gas resources, if proven economic, would represent a real chance to reform our governance before we reform our economy.
Contribution: Mohamad Bassel Kazzaz and Kassem Ghourayeb