Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Lebanese President Michel Sleiman have agreed to boost cooperation and look into ways to explore offshore oil and gas fields that experts believe may have abundant natural gas deposits. But these energy fields lie in a politically tricky area in the waters between Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel.
In a meeting Thursday with the Lebanese president, the Cypriot leader touted the economic growth prospects that could come from the discovery of large reserves of hydrocarbons off the coasts of the two countries.
Those hydrocarbon fields lie in waters between Cyprus and Lebanon and Israel, spanning what are called the exclusive economic zones of each country.
Lebanon and Israel have overlapping claims to an area that spans about 850-square-kilometers of sea.
While all three countries could all profit from finding energy reserves, maritime border disputes have prevented expedient exploration.
"Now that we have the technology, our second problem becomes the politics. We know where the border stands between Lebanon and Cyprus, what we did not know was the northernmost extent and the southernmost extent of the zone, said Lebanese University professor George Nasr, who is a civil engineer and researcher on sustainable development. "How do you draw the line from Lebanon to Cyprus? Cyprus signed a deal with Israel but the point was not the southernmost point, but the point northward of it. But basically we lost an entire triangle."
Some experts have estimated the natural gas reserves in Lebanon's claimed economic zone to be worth more than $40 billion at current market prices.
Developing such reserves would be a boon to Lebanon, which does not produce any of its energy domestically.
David Rowlands, chief executive officer of Spectrum, a Norway-based company that is doing seismic surveys of the area, says the potential energy reserves for Lebanon could exceed domestic needs.
"At the moment, Lebanon imports all its energy, if there’s going to be sufficient gas stocks for Lebanon, it would way exceed domestic needs," he said. "There would be a considerable amount, maybe as much as 90 to 95 percent of the gas found which would be excess to domestic requirements that would go into the international market."
The Lebanese government has said it will open a bidding round in May. But once contracts are set for exploration, Nasr, of Lebanese University, says harnessing the energy would take at least seven years.