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Lukewarm interest to Israel's offshore tender highlights East Med uncertainty

London — Lower-than-expected interest for Israel's second offshore licensing round has highlighted some uncertainty in monetizing gas resources from this hotspot region.

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Israel's ministry of energy announced Tuesday that it had received just two bids from international consortia, despite reports that majors including the US's ExxonMobil had bought tender documents.

Related story: Israel sees just two groups bid in delayed gas licensing round

The eastern Mediterranean has become renowned as a gas hotspot, particularly in recent years, with several high-profile finds, including the Leviathan and Tamar fields in Israel, which have contingent reserves of 605 billion cubic meters and 318 billion cubic meters respectively.

"It is telling that no majors threw their hats into this bid round given the plethora of interest in Egyptian and Cypriot acreage," Samer Mosis, Platts Analytics said. "It underlines the uncertainty that Israeli domestic gas regulation and infrastructure inject into monetizing gas offshore Israel." First gas from Leviathan is expected in the first quarter of 2020. Development partners Noble and Delek have been working to monetize the reserves for over 10 years, but there remain serious questions about how to get the gas to the market.

Limited export infrastructure is likely also to be a culprit for low interest in Israel's latest round, according to Mona Sukkarieh, political risk consultant and co-founder ofMiddle East Strategic Perspectives.

Several countries in the Eastern Mediterranean have expressed interest positioning the region as a gas hub, where the commodity could in theory be traded flexibly between borders to meet demand. But there is not yet the required infrastructure for implementing such a shift.

IMPLICATIONS FOR LEBANON

Lebanon is also included in some plans to develop an East Med gas hub, and the country launched its second offshore licensing round in April this year, which included several blocks located in close proximity to Israel.

"Global market conditions that are entirely different from what they were when the hype for East Med gas first emerged a few years ago [and] it is hard to draw robust conclusions and predict how companies are going to respond to Lebanon's second licensing round compared to Israel's latest round, given that some of the parameters differ," Sukkariehsaid.

Bids for Lebanon's bidding round are due in April 2020. The round is part of a greater strategy to shore up domestic reserves and tackle the country's energy crisis, which has had a knock-on effect on Lebanon's economy and social conditions.

"Generally speaking, prospects for monetization [in the East Med] will affect the attractiveness, in addition of course to market conditions and geopolitical and political risks, and, Lebanon has challenges of its own, including a relatively high, yet for the moment controlled, political risk," Sukkarieh said.

Lebanon and Israel are already locked in a dispute over block nine, which is located offshore. Israel is making a claim to 0.9%, or 150 sq km of the block. The US is mediating in the dispute.

-- Miriam Malek, miriam.malek@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Debiprasad Nayak, debiprasad.nayak@spglobal.com