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Lebanon on Thursday launched an onshore seismic survey of hydrocarbon reserves which Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said could turn the unexploited Mediterranean country into a regional oil hub.
After offshore prospecting returned good results, the "next natural move" was inland, Bassil told reporters.
He said Beirut had also developed several midstream projects with the "aim of turning Lebanon into an oil hub in the region and diversifying our hydrocarbon resources and reducing our energy dependency and oil bill."
Beirut has already passed an offshore petroleum law and carried out seismic surveys in its territorial waters, but the onshore survey is new.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague attended the launch of the survey, which was awarded to UK firm Spectrum.
"This will be a very important period as the Lebanese people seek a national consensus about how oil and gas revenue is spent," Hague told reporters.
"That revenue, if well managed, presents incredible opportunities for Lebanon in tackling national debt, in upgrading power, water, transport and communication infrastructure -- all the things that are vital for economic development."
Lebanon suffers from systematic power cuts because of damage to infrastructure caused by the 1975-1990 civil war and corruption.
Asked if he would encourage other British firms to conduct exploration projects in Lebanon, knowing that its maritime border with Israel is disputed, Hague said "difficulties" would not halt "important discovery work."
The disputed zone consists of about 850 square kilometres (340 square miles), and suspected energy reserves there could generate billions of dollars.
"There are disputed maritime borders... so there are difficulties to be resolved, but clearly that is not stopping preparation for extraction. It is not stopping the important discovery work.
"There are many aspects of this where British companies can be involved and I encourage them to be involved," added Hague, saying Britain would be eager to share its expertise on "extraction management."
Lebanon has been slow to exploit maritime resources compared with other eastern Mediterranean countries. Israel, Cyprus and Turkey are all more advanced in drilling for oil and gas.
A key obstacle to issuing licences is political -- a committee tasked to develop an oil and gas policy has yet to be formed because of disputes over sectarian quotas.