Syria’s Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources Bassam Tohme revealed that the Arab Gas Pipeline inside Syria is ready to pump natural gas from Egypt into Lebanon.
In an interview with Syria TV, Tohme said, “The Arab Gas Pipeline inside Syria is 100 percent ready. Everything hinges now on a trade agreement between Lebanon and Egypt, pending the signing of a transit agreement with Syria.”
The senior official added that the larger the quantity transferred through the Arab line, the greater the benefit of Syria, but it would remain insufficient to fill the country’s deficit.
Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Tarek el-Molla, expected his country to start exporting natural gas to Lebanon by the first quarter of 2022.
He added in a phone interview with al-Sharq TV, “It is important to us that the Egyptian gas reaches Lebanon as soon as possible. But it is even more important that the deal would go smoothly without any negative repercussions. Therefore, we need our brothers in Lebanon, and all concerned stakeholders and countries through which the gas will go through, to ensure that all the technical, commercial and political measures are in order.”
Molla is referring to potential US sanctions relating to Syria. "We do not want to find ourselves helping ... Lebanon but meanwhile penalized," he told Al-Monitor.
In mid-November, Molla said that Egypt would export between 60 to 65 million cubic feet of gas per day to Lebanon.
Lebanon is banking on Egyptian gas to solve its crippling energy crisis that has worsened over the past month. The country's economic crisis is classified by the World Bank as one of the three worst since the mid-19th century.
Since April, Lebanon has been suffering from acute fuel shortages, causing 20 hours of blackout on an almost daily basis during October. Banque du Liban, Lebanon’s central bank, is running low on foreign reserves and therefore no longer able to provide importers with dollars.
In October, Jordan hosted a ministerial meeting of the Arab Gas Pipeline countries (Egypt, Jordan, Syrian and Lebanon), during which it was agreed to deliver Egyptian natural gas to Lebanon.
Separately, Molla said that his country was currently working to increase its gas exports given current high prices and the decline in domestic consumption during winter months.
Egypt produces some 7.2 billion cubic feet per day of gas, with the domestic consumption estimated at 5.8 billion. Cairo is also looking at $6.5 billion in investment in the oil and gas sector for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
In a phone interview with Al-Monitor, Petroleum Ministry spokesman Hamdi Abdel Aziz said, “Egyptian natural gas is expected to be pumped through an existing pipeline, the Arab Gas Pipeline, stretching from Arish to Taba in Egypt, all the way to Aqaba and Rehab in Jordan, then to Homs in Syria and right into Deir Ammar in Lebanon. The line stretches over 1,200 kilometers with a capacity of 7 billion cubic meters of gas annually.”
Abdel Aziz denied claims that Egypt requested the US to make exceptions to sanctions on Syria under the Caesar Act, which makes all financial transactions with Syrian institutions illegal under US law. He said that Lebanon should be the party to negotiate with the US administration.
“The project concerns a number of countries and organizations, including Syria, the World Bank, and needs guarantees from the US regarding exceptions to sanctions,” he said. “Every party to the deal is working on streamlining the process. … Lebanon ought to address the World Bank in relation to financing and also when it comes to the US sanctions,” Abdel Aziz added.
He continued, “Lebanon is holding meetings to this effect, and Egypt can also help. The necessary procedures for transporting gas from Egypt to Lebanon are almost complete. Cairo and Beirut agreed to inspect the pipeline that would transport gas from Egypt to Lebanon through Syria.”
During his visit to Egypt on Dec. 19, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for Cairo’s “urgent” support to provide natural gas in a statement published on his Facebook page.
On Thursday, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly met with Mikati. According to the statement, Mikati mentioned the necessary support Lebanon needs from Egypt, notably strengthening cooperation in gas exports, power linkage between Egypt and Lebanon, facilities in trade exchange, especially in relation with Lebanese agricultural providing, food aid, infant formulas and chronic diseases medicines.
The statement added that Madbouly said, “President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made clear instructions to the government to provide Lebanon with the necessary help and support and to start immediately working on meeting the demands of our brothers in Lebanon."