BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's Energy Ministry says 52 companies have participated in a pre-qualification process to win licenses for offshore oil and gas work.

The ministry says the companies include Chevron and Exxon Mobil Corp. from the United States and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Lebanon is a resource-poor nation and any finds could help it pay off one of the highest debt rates in the world.

The names of winning companies will be announced on April 18. The ministry initially told reporters 50 companies had participated but changed the number later in a statement.

Recent Israeli discoveries of oil and gas have raised tensions between Lebanon and neighboring Israel, which are in a state of war. Both countries claim a small maritime area of 850 square kilometers (328 square miles) in the Mediterranean.