Although the search for natural gas is a hot agenda item, in the meantime Lebanon remains dependent on imports to meet its oil and gas needs. The importation of oil and gas products is split between the government and the private sector, with terminals operating in seven regions along the Lebanese coast. In the distant past, Lebanon was able to source much of its fuel needs from the Tapline operated by the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company. The Tapline ran from Saudi Arabia to the Zahrani oil refinery south of Sidon. However, the Tapline fell out of use in 1976, necessitating the expansion of new sea terminals for the import of fuel and oil derivatives.
Lebanon imported around 5.65 million tons of oil and gas products in 2010, with nearly half of that total going to satisfy the needs of Électricité du Liban (EDL). The state electricity provider relies heavily on fuel and gas oil to fuel its main generating plants. EDL imported around 2.3 million tons in 2010, weighing heavily on the government budget. The Ministry of Energy and Water in addition imported another 1 million tons of fuel and gas oil over the same time period. In terms of retail fuels, the private sector has the field to itself, bringing in some 1.7 million tons of gasoline products in 2010, up substantially on the 1.56 million tons imported in 2009. The main fuel of choice is 95-octane gasoline, with some 1.46 million tons being imported over the course of 2010.
Imports of EN 590 gas oil, or diesel, have also more than doubled since 2008, rising from 156,000 tons to 378,000 tons by 2010. One of the largest pure wholesale private distributors in the Lebanese market is Uniterminals, and its General Manager, Salim Ramadan, told TBY that the market for diesel products is dependent on two main factors. “The first is electricity. If there are power cuts, we sell more generators,” Ramadan said. “The second factor is smuggling from Syria, because the product in Syria is subsidized and so it can come to Lebanon and be sold at a much lower cost.” Uniterminals has an estimated 50% of the diesel market in Lebanon and devotes one of its three operational terminals in Lebanon exclusively to the importation of diesel for the home market.
Another important product imported into the country is bitumen, though the market for this heavy grade material tends to be more fickle. “Consumption is seasonal and can go up or down depending on the situation in the country because it’s used primarily for highway building,” Ramadan from Uniterminals explained. Imports of bitumen have fallen from a high of 67,000 tons in 2008 to 39,500 tons in 2010, indicating a slowdown in infrastructure development. Bitumen imports were at their highest in 2007 and 2008, much a result of the need to repair damaged infrastructure caused by conflict in 2006.
© The Business Year