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Cyprus, Lebanon primed for renewed offshore activity in 2018


New wells planned offshore Cyprus in 2018

Lebanon finally moving forward with block round

Politics still a disruptive force in region

It's been almost like starting over. 2017 was a year in which both Cyprus and Lebanon pushed to revive their stalled offshore hydrocarbon exploration programs.

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In Cyprus, the government awarded three new blocks in April to Eni, Total and a joint venture between ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum International, and Total drilled a new -- albeit disappointing -- well in late summer.

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Lebanon -- which is thought to hold as much as 100 Tcf of gas resources -- managed to complete a licensing round that had been interrupted in 2013 when the government resigned and the president's term later expired, leaving the country leaderless until late 2016.

2018 promises significant developments for both countries, provided the region can avoid any more political turmoil than what is already considered normal.

Turkey continues to object to exploration work offshore Cyprus and Lebanon's domestic politics prevent stability from taking root.

Nevertheless, Cyprus is looking at as many as four new wells and perhaps a deal to develop its Aphrodite gas field for export to Egypt, while Lebanon will soon award two blocks for initial exploration.

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After two disappointing dry holes in Cyprus Block 9 drilled by Eni in 2014/15 and the Italian firm's subsequent decision to suspend its drilling program to re-evaluate its seismic model, the island was looking forward to the resumption of offshore drilling this year by Total.

The well drilled in Block 11 -- only the fifth drilled in the Cyprus offshore -- did discover gas but failed to find commercial quantities.

This was all the more disappointing because drilling took place just a few miles from where Eni in August 2015 made the 30 Tcf Zohr discovery in Egypt's Shorouk Block.

By contrast, Zohr is no disappointment to Egypt. The field came on-stream December 20, with initial production of 1 Bcf/d (28 million cu m/d), which will rise to 2.7 Bcf/d (76million cu m/d) by 2019.

Zohr and other new offshore fields promise to meet Egypt's future energy demand and could enable the restart of Egyptian exports.

This could complicate Noble Energy's current talks with Cairo to route Aphrodite and Leviathan gas to Idku or Damietta for the sake of monetizing their own gas discoveries.

The Block 11 prospect looked so good that Eni farmed into it for a 50% share, anticipating an extension of the Egyptian giant.

Nevertheless, Total continues to evaluate results at the Onisiforos West-1 well in consideration of a wider search in the block.

Undeterred, an Eni/Total partnership will spud a new well before the end of December in Block 6, the Calypso-1, where Eni is operator.

Eni will then immediately proceed with the Cuttlefish-1 well in Block 3, which was awarded to Eni and South Korea's Kogas in a 80/20 partnership in 2013.


Eni is now the key investor in the Cyprus offshore, with stakes in Blocks 2, 3 and 9 awarded in 2013, Blocks 6 and 8 awarded in April 2017, and the farm-in to Block 11 earlier this year.

An Eni well in Block 8 is expected during 2018 and two are planned in Block 10 by the ExxonMobil/QPI partnership.

In November, during a visit to Nicosia by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt and Cyprus agreed to start talks on the construction of a subsea pipeline to Egypt that would transport gas from the 4.5 Tcf Aphrodite field to the currently near-idle LNG plants on Egypt's Nile Delta coast.

The US' Noble Energy is operator of Aphrodite and partnered with Israel's Delek Group and Shell, which is a major stakeholder in Egypt's Idku LNG. The Damietta facility is another option.

After several years of discussion, it is hoped that a commercial agreement can be reached with one or both of them that will allow the stranded gas to make it to international, and particularly European, markets.

Egypt has also endorsed the proposed subsea EastMed Pipeline, which would carry Cypriot and Israeli gas some 2,000 km to Crete, mainland Greece and Italy.

Energy ministers from Cyprus, Greece and Israel and Italy's ambassador to Cyprus gathered in Nicosia in December to sign a memorandum of understanding in which they pledged to cooperate in the implementation of the project.

A final investment decision is planned for 2020 that would see the pipeline operational in 2025 with a capacity of up to 16 Bcm/year.


Elsewhere, with the election of Michel Aoun as president and the formation of a new government led by Saad Hariri in late 2016, Lebanon was able to move forward in 2017 with its licensing round after cabinet approval of two important decrees and the passage by parliament of a petroleum tax law.

But despite all the expressions of interest that Lebanon received in the heady days of 2012/13 when 12 international oil companies were prequalified as operators, only a consortium led by Total, partnered with Eni and Russia's Novatek, entered bids for two blocks -- 4 and 9.

Discussions with the Total-led consortium have finished and Lebanon's minister of energy has approved the contracts, which are expected to be signed in the very near future.

But Lebanon's politics remain volatile as it now finds itself in the midst of the region-wide dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and this could very well affect its exploration program.