Lebanon law allows oil exploration

Spurred by 'Israeli greed,' 10-year political deadlock broken.

A boy casts a shadow on the water contaminated with oil near (photo credit: AP)
A boy casts a shadow on the water contaminated with oil near
(photo credit: AP)
Spurred by "Israeli greed," Lebanon's parliament passed a law Tuesday allowing oil and gas exploration off its coast, effectively ending a decade-long political deadlock in the face of worries that Israel would infringe on its reserves.
For the past decade, Lebanese politicians have been unable to agree over how to exploit the country's natural resources, bickering over which companies would do the surveying.
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But recent Israeli discoveries in the east Mediterranean and a rising national debt have pushed Lebanese politicians to close ranks and approve the new energy law, which was strongly backed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and his allies in the militant Hezbollah group.
Their decision was given added impetus by Israel's discovery of two natural gas fields last year and another Leviathan, this year.
"The amount of debt and Israeli greed are major concerns," said Berri's aide Ali Hamdan of why consensus emerged around the new law. "Passing the law is a message that shows Lebanon is serious and persistent."
Israel has denied the charge that some of its recently discovered gas field stretch into Lebanese territorial waters.
By the end of 2011 Lebanon should have demarcated its maritime borders and divided the area into blocs in order to be able to sign production sharing agreements with companies.
The discovery of large natural gas reserves under the waters of the eastern Mediterranean would spell a huge economic windfall for Lebanon.
Lebanese lawmakers have also said that some of Israel's recently discovered gas fields stretch into Lebanese territorial waters. Israel has denied the charge.
Hezbollah has threatened to use force to protect Lebanon's natural wealth.
Lebanon is a resource poor nation and any finds could help Lebanon's government pay off what is one of the highest debt rates in the world, valued at about $52 billion or 147 percent of the gross domestic product.
Lebanon's economy has boomed in recent years thanks to renewed tourism and real estate investment.
In October, Petroleum Geo-Services said fields in Cypriot and Lebanese waters "may prove to be an exciting new province for oil and gas in the next few years," noting signs of deposits in Lebanon, though their size is still not known.
"It is very encouraging for Lebanon," a PGS official told The Associated Press in July.