The various stages involved in the exploration and extraction of oil and gas could have adverse environmental impacts such as oil spills, a significant increase carbon emissions and the risk of uncontrolled fires. The best way to contain such possible scenarios in Lebanon is through proper policies and legislation. In order to protect the environment from these potential outcomes, the following legal issues need to be considered:
- Develop a comprehensive legislative framework to protect the environment from the adverse effects of exploration for oil and gas. This includes contingency plans for the various possible negative impacts, monitoring mechanisms to oversee the contingency plans and a process to identify those responsible for the incident.
- Set procedures to assess environmental damage, determining the responsible party, establish a system that fines wrongdoing, and determining the amount of compensation that needs to be paid, all based on the polluter pays principle.
- Create a fund that would cover the costs for environmental damage to which all stakeholders contribute proportionally.
- Set up a monitoring system that covers health, safety, and environmental issues.
Lebanon’s political environment has put major obstacles for the development of the oil and gas sector in the country. During a 10 month political deadlock, the gas tender was delayed three times. It is estimated that Lebanon has about 96 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves and 865 million barrels of oil reserves; which is worth more than US$ 600 billion. This money could help pay off Lebanon’s debts and stimulate the economy. However, the activities proposed should not impinge on the state of the environment and could in fact positively contribute to improving it through funding the needed infrastructure works.
Lebanon’s past experience with a major oil spill was in 2006, when more than 15,000 barrels of oil were spilled into the Mediterranean as a result of the Israeli bombardment of the coastal Jiyyeh power plant. It took about 4 years to clean up the spill; this experience highlights the importance of setting up a legal framework to deal with environmental concerns in the sector, and demonstrates the high costs associated with potential accidents.