Lebanon 2013 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jacques Souplet, Managing Director of Total Liban & Total Group Representative in Lebanon, on the local energy sector, outlooks for exploration, and the regulatory environment.

Jacques Souplet
Jacques Souplet joined Total in 1993 after obtaining a Master’s degree in Marketing and Business Administration in Paris in 1988, followed by five years of experience in a family-owned business. He was appointed Managing Director of Total Liban in 2009, after four years in the UAE as Head of Total Marketing Middle East in Dubai and various other positions within the Group in Paris and Asia. He is also Total group Representative in Lebanon, a French Foreign Trade Advisor (CCED), and a member of the Board at the Movement of French Enterprises and Economic Representation in Lebanon (MEREF).

What does Lebanon represent for Total's operations in the Middle East?

First of all, Total has been present in the Middle East since 1924, and we, Total Liban, have been present in Lebanon since 1951. Despite the unstable situation and all the difficulties we faced during the war, we stayed, which made us the only major international company present in the marketing retail and business in the country. The offshore potential of the country creates interest for other international companies, but for Total it is just a continuation.

What is your outlook for the Lebanese energy sector?

The Lebanese energy sector could change a lot if the offshore exploration to be undertaken following the current licensing round proves successful. The upstream segment of the Total group aims at finding new petroleum reserves and increasing our production in a manner respectful of human safety and the environment. Total is also a deepwater pioneer; we successfully drilled the first experimental well under 1,714 meters of water in the Mediterranean Sea in 1982. Therefore, after being in Lebanon for so long, we sought qualification as a right holder operator in the offshore licensing round. I believe the government is working hard to create a comprehensive contractual, legal, and tax framework for petroleum exploration and production. For that, stability and transparency are key. You need to be sure that, in 20 years, you will still be able to produce and work in the country. There have been some promising discoveries in the Levant Basin in the Mediterranean Sea, but in any exploration project, risk exists. You may not find the resources or the economic potential you are looking for. Until you have drilled, nothing is guaranteed. An offshore exploration program requires excellent technical teams, recognized expertise in large-scale projects, and significant investments. We have a lot of expertise to give and share.

How would you assess the regulatory environment in the energy sector in Lebanon?

I think the government has been very active. The Petroleum Administration's selected members are highly professional and represent various fields of expertise. I am not surprised by this, as the Lebanese are very well known in the region as well as worldwide for their high qualifications and level of education. We also got the opportunity to participate in workshops with the government, where we shared our views on what would be attractive for international companies when deciding to invest in the country.

“ It is not unusual that an oil and gas company invests in challenging environments. "

What are the challenges the energy sector is facing?

It is not unusual that an oil and gas company invests in challenging environments; oil and gas resources are often trapped in hostile environments like deserts, mountains, and in deep sea locations. Lebanon is a net importer of oil and gas, and, as such, is totally dependent on market trends and situations. So, if Lebanon can realize its dream to become an oil and gas producer, the country will surely boom while its economy and oil and gas industry will develop. This would spark new activities within the country.

What is your vision for the future of Total in Lebanon, and for the energy sector?

Total has a leading position in the distribution of petroleum products in Lebanon; we still aim at being in the lead while respecting the safety rules established by the Group and preserving the environment. Speaking of the Group in general, the aim is not only to accelerate our business growth, but also to progress in areas as fundamental to our activities as safety, diversity, talent management, logistics, communications, and innovation. In fact, corporate social responsibility is the foundation of Total's strategy and focuses on three major issues: meeting energy needs while tackling the challenges related to climate change and natural resources; managing and curtailing the impact of the Group's operations on people and the environment; and helping to drive local social and economic development. In this same spirit, Total launched with the Faculty of Engineering at St. Joseph University the first Master's in Oil and Gas in English. We are a long-term partner and the best example is our long presence in Lebanon, during good times and less fortunate ones!