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bassil gibran- 0209 defLebanese caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil signed a contract with the American company NEOS GeoSolutions, to survey Lebanon’s oil and gas resources.

“This new contract with the US firm is a positive and encouraging sign, as international companies have begun to show interest in investing in Lebanon without the Lebanese state incurring any expenses,” Bassil said Friday in a statement issued by the Energy Ministry.

“The oil [exploration process] has started and shall not cease. No one has the power to stop it,” he stressed.

Bassil said Wednesday that the bidding process on the first round of licenses for exploring Lebanon’s oil resources was postponed “for the last time” until April 2014.

Last April, a group of 46 firms qualified to bid on licenses to explore Lebanese offshore gas fields, with 12 qualified to bid as operators.

Bassil has called on the cabinet—which resigned last March—and the parliament to hold extraordinary sessions to approve the oil sector decrees.

He had originally planned to conduct the first round of licensing that May, but the cabinet’s resignation put the process on hold.

The government must still pass two decrees – laying out the model for the Production Sharing Agreement that companies will eventually sign, and officially delineating the blocks available for bidding – before bidding and negotiations can begin.

Lebanon has been slow in exploiting its maritime resources compared to other eastern Mediterranean countries. Israel, Cyprus and Turkey are all more advanced in their drilling efforts for oil and gas.

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