Hydrocarbons at issue in Israel-Lebanon dispute

Levant Basin

US-mediated talks opened Oct. 14 between Israel and Lebanon, aimed at resolving the long-standing maritime border dispute between the two countries. At issue in the talks, held in Lebanon’s coastal border town of Naqoura, is an 860-square-kilometer patch of the Mediterranean Sea where each side lays territorial claim. The conflict stems from differing demarcation methods: Israel marks the border as being at a 90-degree angle to the land border, while Lebanon marks it as a continuation of the land borderline. The issue grew more pressing with the discovery of abundant hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean’s Levant Basin. Lebanon, which sought to pursue gas drilling off its coast, submitted its demarcation of the maritime borders to the UN a decade ago, claiming this area as within its Exclusive Economic Zone. Israel called this an infringement of its rights, and submitted its own version of the border demarcation to the UN.

According to an estimate by the US Geological Survey published in March 2010, unexplored potential reserves in the Levant Basin amount to 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 122 trillion cubic feet (3,450 billion cubic meters) of recoverable gas. These represent the world’s largest gas finds in decades.

Lebanese authorities insist the talks will not be a prelude to any general normalization of ties with Israel. The two counties remain technically at war. (Al JazeeraForeign Policy, NYT, TRTINSS, Israel Defense, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Israel meanwhile plans to begin offshore gas drilling in waters claimed by Cyprus—an extension of its controversial drilling in waters off the Gaza Strip. The pending Israeli concessions in  Cypriot waters are being contested by Turkey.

Photo: US Energy Information Administration