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After First Well Comes Up Dry, Lebanon Asks TotalEnergies to Drill Again

Transocean Barents
Transocean Barents (Courtesy Transocean)

Published Oct 25, 2023 6:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

After an initial offshore exploratory well did not find commercial quantities of gas in Lebanon's Block 9 - the nation's first offshore lease - the Lebanese government has asked operator TotalEnergies to drill again, and quickly. 

Much of Lebanon's economic future hinges on Block 9 and the underlying Qana gas field, and it took years of negotiation and considerable luck to get it to the point of spudding the first well. The gas field lies right on the Israeli-Lebanese maritime boundary, and the demarcation line was contested for decades. The deal to settle the boundary dispute handed Israel control of everything on its side of Line 23, one of many proposed boundaries, including the lucrative Karish gas field. In return, Lebanon got the rights to most of Qana, which is bifurcated by the line. 

TotalEnergies and its partners moved fast to develop Qana once the boundary agreement was in place. In November 2022 - just weeks before the inauguration of a new Israeli prime minister, who was hostile to the deal - the French oil major signed a deal with the Israeli government to ensure it had uncontested rights for exploration. 

TotalEnergies' chartered drillship, Transocean Barents, arrived off Lebanon to start the project in August 2023. However, last week TotalEnergies suspended drilling and said that it had found no commercial gas. 

"They drilled in one single location in Block 9, they have the obligation to do another well but the obligation comes later in time," Lebanese energy minister Walid Fayad told Reuters this week. "We will try to convince TotalEnergies, Eni, and QatarEnergy to drill a second well in Block 9 as early as possible, starting maybe early next year." 

The well's technical results were disappointing, but some observers in Lebanon have wondered whether the oil major's decision to halt operations was partly driven by the deteriorating political and security circumstances in the region. Lebanese militia group Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organization with extensive political power and Iranian backing, has launched a series of intensifying border clashes with Israeli forces. The Israeli operations in Gaza have elevated tensions with neighboring states, and the U.S. government has asked its citizens to leave Lebanon due to security concerns. 

Despite setbacks, TotalEnergies and its consortium partners recently bid for additional lease acreage in adjacent blocks 8 and 10, demonstrating confidence in the potential of Lebanon's offshore resource base.