Russian and European firms are considering investments in Lebanon’s nascent oil and gas sector as it prepares to launch offshore drilling by the end of 2019, Energy Minister Nada Boustani said.“Several big companies have visited Lebanon,” she told AFP in an interview. “We are talking about Gazprom (Russia), Lukoil (Russia), and soon, the BP firm (Britain) is expected to visit,” the 39-year-old minister said in her office in Beirut.“There is also interest from Total (France), ENI (Italy) and Novatek (Russia).” US firms have not yet participated in offshore bidding rounds.But US State Department official David Satterfield told Boustani on Wednesday that Washington “has no problem with US firms participating” in the energy sector, she said, calling this a “positive step.” Last year, Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in its waters.Gazprom, Lukoil, BP, Total and ENI are among the big companies interested in the sector says Energy Minister Nada BoustaniA consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek took the first two of its 10 blocks, including one disputed by neighboring Israel with which Lebanon has fought several wars. On April 5, Lebanon invited international consortia of at least three companies to bid for five more blocks by the end of January 2020.On Thursday, Boustani wrote on Twitter that she had met with the regional head of BP who said his company was “interested in the second licensing round.” Two more of the blocks now up for tender are also adjacent to Israel’s waters.Israel and Lebanon are technically at war, although the last Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after two decades of occupation. This has complicated attempts to demarcate land and maritime borders with Israel, which produces natural gas from reserves off its coast in the Mediterranean.In recent weeks, Satterfield has been mediating in indirect negotiations between the two countries over their disputed maritime border, whose delimitation could affect offshore exploration.“If we agree on entering talks with Israel, then in addition to negotiations over the maritime borders, we will also discuss ways to divide offshore oil and gas fields,” Boustani said.Lebanon is set to start drilling in block 4 in December, and later in the disputed block 9.Last year, Total said it was aware of the border dispute in less than eight percent of block 9 and said it would drill away from that area. In the wider region, Lebanon is also considering agreements with other neighbors.In January, representatives of seven Mediterranean countries — including Egypt, Cyprus and Israel — agreed on establishing the East Med Gas Forum, a Cairo-based body that aims to create a regional gas market to benefit member states.