Lebanon to UN: Protect Gas From Israel Drilling

An estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was recently found off of Israel's coast; it is largest amount of natural gas discovered in the world in last decade.

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Lebanon has asked the United Nations to protect the country's natural gas reserves along the maritime border with Israel.

Last week, Texas-based Noble Energy Inc. announced an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas found in a field off Israel's Mediterranean coast.

Late Tuesday, Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali Shami sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to prevent Israel from exploiting Lebanon's oil and maritime wealth.

The gas reserve is estimated to be worth more than 95 billion dollars. It is the largest amount of natural gas discovered in the world in the last decade and is located in approximately 5,400 feet (1,645 meters) of water, about 130 kilometers offshore of Haifa and 29 miles (47 kilometers) southwest of the Tamar discovery.

The United Nations demarcated the land border separating Israel and Lebanon in 2000, but there is no official naval border.

Lebanese officials and even Hezbollah have raised the issue in the past, after the Dalit and Tamar natural gas discoveries.

Last year, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, urged Lebanon to start exploring its offshore natural gas reserves, warning that otherwise Israel would claim the resources.

"Israel is racing to make the case a fait accompli and was quick to present itself as an oil emirate, ignoring the fact that, according to the maps, the deposit extends into Lebanese waters," Berri said.

The head of petroleum and natural gas exploration in the National Infrastructures Ministry, Dr. Yaakov Mimran, called the claims "nonsense." He said that the latest offshore discoveries in the Leviathan field, as well as the earlier Tamar and Dalit finds, are absolutely within Israeli territory.

Mimran explained that the Israel-Lebanon border is not perpendicular to the coast and Israel's exclusive offshore economic zone includes all the fields. "Those noises occur when they smell gas. Until then they sit quietly and let the other side spend the money," he added.

Senior Israeli officials said it was Lebanon that set the limits on its own territorial waters after it had given out exploration licenses exactly along these borders. "What are they complaining about now?" asked one official. "That is how Cyprus acted, which set the border of its exclusive economic zone between countries at a distance of 200 kilometers from Israeli shores and sold the [licenses] for exploration to private entrepreneurs along this line," said an official.

Drilling in the Dalit offshore field.Credit: Archive

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