BEIRUT—Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s claim that Israel is siphoning off gas from one of Lebanon’s offshore reserves has underlined the country’s failure to protect its natural wealth and demarcate its territorial waters, experts said Wednesday.
Although it is difficult to substantiate Berri’s accusations on the ground, the experts interviewed by The Daily Star admitted that theft from potential gas reserves is technically feasible, but costly and risky at the same time.
“Sucking the gas reserves can be done horizontally by building a pipe under the sea and without drawing attention. However, this method is costly and I am sure respectable international oil firms will not explore gas in disputed zones, because they know that they will be sued by the damaged parties,” a London-based oil and gas expert told the paper.
Another source familiar with the gas talks between Lebanon and Cyprus said Lebanon didn’t have the means to verify Berri’s accusations.
“This should be done by the United Nations, which can check these reports,” the source said, adding that Berri might have raised this issue to encourage Lebanese officials to establish the actual size of Lebanon’s share in the exclusive economic zone.
Berri threatened Wednesday to take matters into his own hands to stop Israel stealing oil and gas.
In his weekly meeting with MPs from various blocs, Berri was quoted as saying that Lebanon had been passive while Israel siphoned off its oil and gas.
Berri spoke of a deal between Greece, Cyprus and Israel involving Lebanon’s potential deposits.
“We should take serious steps to defend our oil resources and invest in them, or else I will not remain silent and idle,” the speaker told the lawmakers.
Berri said there were credible reports from an unnamed international scientist that Israel had started siphoning off gas from one of Lebanon’s reserves in an area close to the southern border with Israel.
Roudi Baroudi, the CEO of the World Energy Council – Lebanon branch, said Berri was one of the few people in Lebanon who was showing great concern about the fate of the country’s potential gas and oil wealth.
“This is not the first time Israel has been accused of horizontal drilling. We should take these accusations very seriously. If it wasn’t for Berri, none of the officials would have inquired about the fate of gas,” Baroudi said.
He added that Israel and Turkey were the only countries in the region that had not signed the United Nations’ Law of the Sea, which protects the rights of individual countries. Lebanon, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus have signed this agreement.
“If Israel and Turkey want to attend The Hague ... then these countries have to abide by the law and the only way to do this is by signing the Law of the Sea,” Baroudi said.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil traveled to Cyprus last week to discuss with Cypriot officials the possibility of signing a joint oil and gas agreement with Lebanon.
“Israel can install a horizontal driller or pipe up to 10 miles but this is not an easy thing,” Baroudi said.
“We need to protect our wealth by signing a joint agreement and establishing the actual size of Lebanon’s share of the free economic zone.”
Lebanon rejects Israel’s claim to approximately 870 square kilometers of territory that lies within Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
The United States has submitted three proposals in an attempt to mediate the dispute, but there has been no official response from either country.