Strengthen our environmental protections

The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative renews its call for sound environmental regulation

Photo by: Albatross via Getty Images

As Lebanon gears up to explore for offshore oil and gas resources, it is critical that environmental protection is a front and center priority. Oil and gas development activities have high environmental risks that could impact Lebanese communities living along the coast, as well as businesses working in the fishery, tourism, and shipping sectors.

To adequately protect Lebanon’s environment throughout the exploration and extraction phases, it will be necessary to revise Lebanon’s strategic environmental assessment (SEA).

An SEA is a report filed according to international standards and best practices, which offers governments a comprehensive view of environmental constraints and the potential impacts of developing a resource extraction sector in their country. It is used to develop solutions to potential environmental risks, guide the development of tailored regulations of petroleum companies’ operations, and create a formal platform to engage all appropriate stakeholders, including civil society, in the process. In short, an SEA is a critical assessment tool required for proper policy and environmental planning, which Lebanon should have as it develops its oil and gas sector.

Recognizing this, the Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI) is renewing a call it first made in May 2017 for a complete review of Lebanon’s SEA. LOGI is an independent NGO focused on developing a network of Lebanese experts in the global energy industry. It aims to educate policy makers and citizens on building an oil and gas industry that benefits all citizens, while avoiding the resource curse.

The Lebanese government commissioned an SEA in 2011, and published it in 2014. LOGI, in partnership with Publish What You Pay and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, as well as third-party international experts, reviewed the approximately 800-page document to synthesize and release their findings to the wider public. LOGI found that Lebanon’s SEA, although a step in the right direction, fell short of meeting international standards. Of particular concern is the fact that the SEA was compiled with minimal input from ministries and concerned citizens, did not conform to existing environmental legislation in Lebanon, and featured outdated or incomplete data. In fact, the SEA did not address questions that were directly, and publicly, posed to the team that compiled it.

Ticking clock

This gap presents a range of problems, but also opportunities, which must be seized upon with the assistance of concerned civil society organizations and the public at large.

LOGI shared its findings in May 2017 with the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, as well as other government agencies and several civil society organizations.

LOGI’s key recommendation is that Lebanon’s SEA be revised to improve the protection of the environment and decrease the likelihood of significant impacts. What should be apparent is that LOGI is not seeking a wholesale remake of Lebanon’s SEA. In fact, quite the opposite. It is our firm belief that Lebanon should move to establish its petroleum sector at a vigorous pace, particularly as licensing was stalled for years.

A review and revision of the SEA should not hamper this process, which is why LOGI and its partners have advocated for a review in parallel with the first licensing round (with the bid submittal deadline fast approaching on September 15). Such a process has been carried out with success in Montenegro and Croatia, where clauses were inserted into licensing round conditions, stating that the given SEA is under review, and its findings, conclusions, and mitigation measures will be binding on all operators. In fact, Lebanon has already adopted similar language that binds all operators to any new mitigating measures.

Based on LOGI’s recommendations, the LPA decided to undertake a revision of the SEA in May 2017. We are now in August, and the process is progressing at a slow pace. Our call to renew the SEA is time sensitive. LOGI renews its call and urges all decision makers and citizens to pay close attention to this matter. We need a revised SEA to inform our environmental regulations in Lebanon’s oil and gas sector. The time is now.

Mona Sukkarieh is the cofounder of Middle East Strategic Perspectives (http://www.mesp.me), a Beirut based political risk consultancy

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