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French Version

Fneish reveals plan to floating LNG plant

Lebanon is planning to establish a floating Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plant to feed natural gas directly to thje country's power stations, Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

"The Ministry of Energy is currently negotiating with a number of companies to establish a floating LNG plant which will convert liquefied natural gas from tankers to fuel, which would then be piped to power plants," Fneish said. Fneish said the ministry is discussing "details and prices with a few companies," adding that the results of the negotiations will be announced "soon" without giving any timetable.

Lebanon has been trying to adopt an alternative energy program for years, by diversifying its fuel sources and reducing its dependence on imported oil. With the government shouldering the mounting losses of ElectricitŽ du Liban - which meets Lebanon's annual energy consumption requirements using oil imports - the need to switch to switch to gas has become even more pressing.

"It is our strategic decision to switch to natural gas to produce electricity," Fneish said. Though he declined to elaborate about which countries might supply the natural gas.

As part of the new energy strategy, Lebanon plans to build a natural gas pipeline along the coast to feed all its power plants.

According to energy expert Roudi Baroudi, up to 2004 the government did a lot of preparatory work to establish an off-shore national gas transmission pipeline from the North to the South. But the efforts were halted for political reasons, he said.

Baroudi said that for gas supplies to be harnessed, The Natural Gas Master Plan and The Natural Gas Transmission Law, both of which have been sitting in the drawers of the government for years, need to be reactivated.

Other plans include importing natural gas from Syria through a pipeline, which has already been constructed in the north of Lebanon to feed the Badawi power plant. Supplies will not start before 2007 according to Syrian officials.

Another project in the works is the construction of an Arab gas pipeline which would move natural gas from Egypt to Jordan, Syria and eventually Lebanon.

According to Bahij Abu Hamzeh, head of the Union of oil companies in Lebanon, there are serious fears that the Arab pipeline would be established in Syria and then Turkey without going into Lebanon. Abu Hamzeh explained that "the reasons would probably be political disputes with Syria."

He said that Lebanon has signed agreements with Egypt to receive natural gas through this pipeline and urged the authorities to follow up with the Egyptian government on the progress of these agreements.

According to Baroudi, an LNG plant will ensure security of future fuel supplies, which are increasingly vulnerable to instability in oil-producing countries. Imports of natural gas could be purchased from countries such as Egypt, Algeria and Qatar.

Natural gas has important economic benefits over fuel oil, Baroudi said. In a study conducted for the Council of Ministers in 2003 for the energy needs of the Zahrani and Beddawi power plants, using natural gas instead of oil saves both power plants $84 million per year. Now, with increase of oil prices, the saving would exceed $178 million per year, said Baroudi.

He added that operational costs and the life-span of the plant equipment will significantly decrease when natural gas is used.

Moving from oil to natural gas will also benefit the environment, since burning natural gas releases less toxic waste and, thus, contributes to realizing a final solution to the acid rain problem in the Mediterranean basin.

Beirut 28-02-2006
Raed El Rafei
The Daily Star

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