US energy official discusses Israel-Lebanon maritime dispute on Beirut visit
The United States' top energy diplomat visited Lebanon on Wednesday to discuss the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon, among other energy related issues.
Amos Hochstein, the US diplomat, met with President Michel Aoun in Beirut where they discussed “the future of the [maritime] negotiation process.”
A US State Department statement also said that Hochstein would “discuss sustainable solutions to Lebanon’s energy crisis.” This would likely entail discussing the plan to import Egyptian natural gas and Jordanian electricity through Syria, which the US greenlit in August.
Lebanon has been experiencing a crippling energy crisis over the last six months, with the failing power grid providing as little as an hour of electricity a day. The price of fuel has also risen dramatically in the last few months after the Mikati government lifted subsidies and raised the price of gas.
Hochstein’s visit is likely aimed at restarting the maritime negotiations between Israel and Lebanon which stalled in May. The talks broke down before any substantive progress could be made—as the Israel side wanted to negotiate over a 860 kilometre area, while the Lebanese side insisted the contested area was actually 2,290 km.
The area claimed by Lebanon includes portions of two natural gas fields, Karish and Tanin, though Israel has rejected any negotiations over these maritime blocs. Israel has had success in the past with offshore drilling, extracting gas from the Tamer gas field.
Lebanon’s offshore gas reserves are estimated to be worth around $250 billion, or about eight times Lebanon’s GDP in 2020. The prospect of a domestic source of natural gas is appealing for Lebanon, especially as its fuel crisis drags on.
However, estimates of gas reserves are not always correct. Initial explorations of one of its gas blocs in 2020 came up short as no commercially viable gas was found.
The negotiations between Israel and Lebanon have yet to make any significant process, as the two sides still have not agreed on the preconditions for negotiations.
In order to define the boundaries of the maritime Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), each side must agree on a starting point and an orientation for the lines of the boundaries of their EEZ’s. This has proved exceedingly difficult, as the two sides do not have formal diplomatic relations, nor do they agree on their land borders.
The two countries are separated by the a UN demarcated “blue-line,” however, there are 13 disputed points on this boundary, including the Shebaa Farms.
French oil giant Total has been tapped to explore two natural gas blocs off of Lebanon, one of which lies partially in the disputed zone between Israel and Lebanon.