Lebanon’s energy and water ministry has postponed announcing results of the companies prequalified to bid in its latest offshore licensing round.

The results will be announced on 28 April to give more time to prequalified applicants to provide additional data, documents as well as clarifications, the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), said in a joint statement with the ministry.

Lebanon has been speeding up efforts to develop its offshore oil and gas assets since a new government was sworn in last year.

The new cabinet issued decrees in January to relaunch the licensing round stalled since three years because of political stagnation. The LPA is offering blocks 1, 4, 8, 9 and 10 for potential bidders.

Last week, the LPA said in a statement that nine companies had submitted prequalification bids on 31 March.

The new applicants include exploration and production firms from India, Russia, Iran and Qatar.

Thirty-four companies including UK/Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, Italy’s Eni, France’s Total, the US’ Exxon Mobil and the US’ Chevron, which qualified in 2013 as operators, are still eligible to bid on the blocks provided they meet the energy ministry’s criteria.

Twelve firms that qualified as non-operators including Austria’s OMV and the UK’s Dana Petroleum can qualify as operators in the latest round, if they meet criteria.

The companies, which submitted prequalification applications in March are:

  • ONGC Videsh Limited (India)
  • Lukoil (Russia)
  • Sapurakencana Energy (Malaysia)
  • Sonatrach (Algeria)
  • Qatar Petroleum (Qatar)
  • Advanced Energy System (Egypt)
  • Petropars (Iran)
  • Novatek (Russia)
  • Vega Petroleum (Egypt) / Edgo Energy (UK) / Petroleb (Lebanon)

The authority added that 14 companies, which had pre-qualified in the first round had updated their applications, indicating their participation in the ongoing round.

Lebanon is estimated to have around 96 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 865 million barrels of oil offshore in waters shared with Israel, Cyprus and Syria.

The relaunch of its bid round has caused concern in Israel, which claims some of the offshore territory. Block 8 in particular, which has the highest potential for oil and gas discoveries, falls under disputed territory.

The Israeli government is currently pushing for a maritime areas law that aims to establish its sovereignty over the disputed territory.

The political dispute could overshadow Lebanon’s efforts to develop the blocks at a time when it critically needs revenues to bolster its economy squeezed by the spillover of conflict in neighbouring Syria.

“The issue of the disputed area that Israel refers to will in doubt negatively affect potential investors’ sentiment. No rational company would want to bid for a block only to lose it later because of the maritime borders dispute,” says Carol Nakhle, chief executive at energy advisory firm Crystol Energy.

“Lebanon is still going ahead because the Lebanese government does not recognise the disputed area which for them falls within the Lebanese waters,” she added.

Lebanon has yet to prepare a petroleum tax law to help exploit oil and gas reserves offshore.

Meanwhile, exploration for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean has been gathering pace. Qatar Petroleum and ExxonMobil, which were awarded the contract for Cyprus’ Block 10 last year will drill for oil and gas off the southern coast of the island in 2018, the Gulf producer said in a recent statement.