Lebanon on Edge: Is TotalEnergies' 'controversial' decision a political statement?

Press Highlights
2023-10-21 | 00:23
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Lebanon on Edge: Is TotalEnergies' 'controversial' decision a political statement?
Lebanon on Edge: Is TotalEnergies' 'controversial' decision a political statement?

As if it were a painful military strike, the announcement by TotalEnergies to halt drilling operations in Block 9 came after they discovered there were no commercial quantities of gas in the Qana reservoir. 

This article was originally published in and translated from Lebanese newspaper Nidaa Al-Watan.

The company stated that they had drilled to a depth of 3900 meters since starting in August but had not achieved the expected results. 

Lebanon, lacking news like this, saw an increase in tension, political disputes, accusations, and the "era" of former President Michel Aoun receiving his share of allegations of conspiracy.

The announcement of TotalEnergies suspending drilling operations came amidst the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territories and along the Lebanese borders, as Western and Arab countries are urging their citizens to leave Lebanon. 

This makes it necessary to consider both the timing and content of the announcement. 

The company, which had announced the commencement of drilling operations that usually require a long time to complete, hastened to say, "There is no gas reservoir in the field it is operating in, which is Block 9." 

Is this a political announcement before it is a technical one?

Sources following the oil exploration process told Nidaa Al-Watan that the turmoil caused by TotalEnergies' announcement led the Ministry of Energy to clarify its statement, leaving the possibility of gas existence open. 

The sources clarified the situation by saying, "No commercial quantities have been found, but the possibility of discovery still exists," explaining what happened with TotalEnergies as follows: "It turned out that the targeted layer to be reached does not contain the expected quantities; it was supposed to be drilled to a depth of about 4200 meters, but it turned out they only reached 3300 meters. They found that gas had leaked for many years, but this does not mean there is no gas in the Qana field because Qana is a field, not a reservoir."

The source does not overlook the geopolitical aspect of TotalEnergies' announcement, saying, "Political pressure exists and affects the speed or delay of the exploration process. It was clear that the goal is to exert more pressure on Lebanon and to say that the deteriorating situation on the borders with Occupied Palestine means it is impossible to continue exploration."

However, "the company cannot conceal any positive results. If the drilling operations lead to the discovery of gas, they will announce the results immediately, but the political factor is strong in the timing and manner of the announcement," it added.

From a technical perspective, the source explains that previous studies conducted in various stages of two-dimensional and three-dimensional geophysics indicated the possibility of gas at a depth of 4,000 meters. 

"It turned out that the gas had leaked over the years, and this is a world with wide possibilities. If ten geoscientists gather, it means there are eight different opinions. The drilling results are not certain until the well is actually drilled."

The source emphasizes that the drilling operations have shown the presence of very good-quality sand but no gas. 

However, this does not mean that the surrounding layers are devoid of gas, so the political factor should not be neglected in the matter, but it is not to the extent of a conspiracy.

The source criticizes the political attacks and negative atmosphere that emerged after TotalEnergies' announcement, far from any national approach. It seems as if the goal is to discredit the companies that intend to invest in the sector and the remaining blocks. 

Their attraction was aimed at demarcation with Israel, and their primary goal was to provide companies with guarantees to submit their investment offers in Lebanon. 

The source also highlights the sudden appearance of a large number of energy experts who analyzed TotalEnergies' work, especially during the last parliamentary committee session and before that, as if there were 128 energy experts in Lebanon.

The sources reject the conspiracy theory and say, "It is not possible for the company to make a discovery and hide it from the public. From the beginning, the chances of success were 25 percent. We cannot find gas in every well that is drilled. In Israel, 11 wells were drilled, and gas was discovered in only three of them. In Lebanon, the company has drilled until it reached the targeted layer to find that gas had leaked for many years."

"There are more reservoirs, and TotalEnergies has applied for licenses for Blocks 8 and 10, which means they will continue their work and have studies that anticipate the final report, which is expected to take time. In other words, hope still exists for Lebanon to discover its wealth. Still, the security situation will have its impact, and TotalEnergies quickly announced the transfer of its equipment to work in Cyprus, meaning its return to new drilling points will not be in the near future."

The source denies the idea that large gas quantities exist in the part that Lebanon ceded to Israel, agreeing on point 23 of the borders instead of 29, saying, "Lebanon did not overlook its share in the Qana field, and the part in Israel's 'custody' is not Lebanese."

TotalEnergies left, leaving significant question marks, while the Ministry of Energy awaits its detailed report, which the Minister of Energy requested. 

Legally, TotalEnergies is supposed to submit its report to the relevant parties within two months, so there is still plenty of time. 

However, according to energy sources, the report will be a subject of discussion and back-and-forth between TotalEnergies and Lebanon. 

Lebanon does not have information confirming that TotalEnergies faced political pressure that hastened the announcement of its results. 

But the logic of the situation makes the hypothesis of pressure possible, as long as the announcement came in a politically murky and highly sensitive context, to send a political message, whether intentionally from the company or beyond, to prevent Lebanon from benefiting from its oil wealth in the presence of Hezbollah on the borders.

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