Lebanon moves to revive flailing offshore energy industry
On Wednesday, the country's government pre-qualified eight companies to bid in first round auctions for offshore exploration contracts and production licenses.
The eight international companies are namely: India's ONGC Videsh, Russia's PJSC Lukoil and JSC Novatek, Qatar Petroleum,UK-based New Age African Global Energy, Iran's Petropars, Algeria's Sonatrach International Petroleum Exploration and Malaysia's SapuraKencana.
Back in 2013 the Lebanese government pre-qualified 46 other companies, including Chevron Corp, Total, and Exxon Mobil, for bidding.
But years of political stasis in the midst of a presidential vacuum saw the fledgling industry fail to get off the ground as regional rivals - including Cyprus and Israel - began exploration and signed export deals. International energy companies interested in Lebanon's possible offshore deposits began to look elsewhere for investment opportunities.
The election of Michel Aoun to the presidency late last year, and the formation of a new government, appears tentatively to have revived the dormant industry.
Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abou Khalil has said that the exploration bids of pre-qualified companies will be assessed in the coming months with a September deadline set for submissions.
These bids will then be considered by the energy ministry and the cabinet before a final decision is made.
Huge reserves of gas and oil are believed to lie beneath Lebanese waters in the eastern Mediterranean, where gas fields were initially discovered in 2009.
The ministry of energy and water has previously suggested the potential existence of 96 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves and 865 million barrels of oil, which according to a survey carried out by the Lebanese Bank Audi, could net the government more than $600bn.
More conservative estimates hypothesise the existence of 25 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.
However, civil society actors have expressed scepticism concerning the willingness of politicians to distribute the potential wealth equitably in the future.
They have called for independent transparency measures to be put in place.