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BEIRUT, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Lebanon intends to restart its first oil and gas licensing round after a three-year delay, the energy minister said on Thursday, hoping to kick-start the development of a hydrocarbon industry.
In its first sitting since being formed in December, Lebanon's new cabinet passed two decrees on Wednesday defining the blocks and specifying conditions for production and exploration tenders and contracts.
Lebanon will offer five offshore blocks for exploration and production and is to hold another pre-qualification round for companies interested in bidding, Minister of Energy and Water Cesar Abou Khalil told a news conference.
Beirut estimates it has 96 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and 865 million barrels of oil offshore, but squabbling between parties has prevented the passage of vital laws needed to develop the sector.
In 2013, 46 companies qualified to take part in bidding for oil and gas tenders, 12 of them as operators, including Chevron , Total and Exxon Mobil.
Abou Khalil said he expects these 46 companies to be interested still and that Lebanon will hold another pre-qualification process to increase competition and secure the best deal.
The next stage is for the government to agree a tax regime for the nascent hydrocarbon industry.
On Wednesday, the cabinet also agreed to form a ministerial committee to discuss the draft tax law. Abou Khalil said the committee would meet on Thursday.
"The committee is committed to finalise comments on the tax law (with) the shortest delay," he said.
"It might take a couple of weeks, and then we will go back to the council of ministers and we will transfer the (draft) law to the parliament, where it is expected to be passed in the first legislative session." (Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Laila Bassam; Editing by Dale Hudson)