Lebanon says Israel can now tap its gas resources

BEIRUT Fri Jul 5, 2013 2:43pm BST

Lebanon's Minister of Energy and Water Gebran Bassil smiles during an inteview with Reuters at his office in Beirut June 14, 2010. REUTERS/ Cynthia Karam

Lebanon's Minister of Energy and Water Gebran Bassil smiles during an inteview with Reuters at his office in Beirut June 14, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/ Cynthia Karam

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's energy minister said on Friday that Israel has the technical ability to draw from Lebanese underwater gas fields, and called for an urgent parliamentary session to define gas exploration plans and bloc parameters.

Lebanon, technically at war with Israel, has warned in the past that it would "use all means" to defend its resource rights if Israel was found to be drilling within its borders.

Gebran Bassil told reporters at a media conference that Israel had discovered an underwater gas field in the Mediterranean sea only 4 km (2.5 miles) away from the border.

"This means, theoretically, that Israel is now able to reach Lebanese gas and that is a very grave situation," he said.

Barak Seri, the spokesman for Israel's Energy Ministry declined to comment.

Israel has made two of the world's largest offshore finds in the past decade, said to contain more than 800 billion cubic metres of gas. Texas-based Noble Energy is leading several international energy firms retrieving the new finds.

"We do not want to say a crisis would happen, but ... Israel would be able to dig horizontally. By doing that, it could reach the proven wells in Lebanon," Bassil said.

"So if it drilled vertically and there was overlap between the Israeli and Lebanese fields, Lebanese gas could be pulled towards Israel. But this is still unproven."

The leader of the Lebanon's Islamist guerilla group Hezbollah, which fought an inconclusive war with Israel in 2006, has also vowed to defend his country's natural resources.

Bassil said Israel's new gas exploration should revive the urgency of a cabinet meeting required to approve a document setting out parameters for 10 exploration blocs, ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 sq km.

But that may be difficult given Lebanon's political turmoil, after Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in March amid fierce political squabbling that has stalled most government decisions.

Mikati's caretaker government, including Bassil, remains in office with limited powers until Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam forms a new cabinet.

On Friday lawmakers said only a new cabinet could approve the plans for Lebanon's potential Mediterranean gas fields.

"The only way to protect our gas resources is for Lebanon to work to start extraction and production, and start to benefit from that," Bassil said.

"There are political, constitutional and legal ways to hold an exceptional meeting in parliament to approve these plans."

(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Erika Solomon; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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