Eastern Med countries agree to move ahead with gas forum

The energy ministers of Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Palestinian territories and a representative of the energy minister of Jordan met in Cairo.
Saturday 27/07/2019
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) with US, Israeli and Egyptian ministers during the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, Cairo, July 25. (AFP)
New structure. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) with US, Israeli and Egyptian ministers during the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, Cairo, July 25. (AFP)

CAIRO - Energy ministers from the founding countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum agreed to complete the basic structure of the group and enhance cooperation to promote the exploitation of natural gas reserves in the region.

During a meeting July 25 in Cairo, energy ministers of Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Palestinian territories and a representative of the energy minister of Jordan said they would form a committee to elevate the forum to the level of an international organisation that respects the rights of its members to their natural resources.

The meeting of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) founders was almost six months after the forum was declared. EMGF is a new player on the international natural gas scene, deriving its force from numerous gas finds in the region in recent years.

The forum is an expression of the changing face of the region, in which political and military rivalries and animosities are overshadowed by economic interests, even as some regional countries, including Turkey, Lebanon and Syria, are yet to join.

Holding the potential of changing strategic and economic conditions in the eastern Mediterranean and allowing for wider economic cooperation and trade between its states, EMGF will put Egypt at the centre of the international gas field.

With sprawling gas processing facilities, Egypt wants to be a hub for gas wells in the region, process it and send it to the international market. Israeli natural gas is expected to flow to Egyptian liquefaction facilities in November, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said.

The flow of Israeli gas to Egypt stems from a $15 billion agreement Israel’s Delek Drilling and Texas-based partner Noble Energy and an Egyptian company signed in February 2018. A few days later, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Egypt had scored a “big goal.”

“The gas would have either got [to the international market] through us or through another country,” Sisi said. “If it had got out through another country, you [the Egyptian people] would have blamed us for not taking action.”

Sisi met with the ministers before the EMGF meeting and expressed optimism that cooperation would improve through the natural gas finds in the eastern Mediterranean. This could turn those resources into real investment opportunities, he said.

Sisi said EMGF would help members coordinate policies to enhance the regional natural gas market. “This will pave the road for the creation of an integrated regional energy centre,” he said.

Local energy experts said utilisation of natural gas resources in the region would be much easier if countries increased cooperation.

“These states have a chance of assured success only if they increase this cooperation,” said Osama Kamal, a former Egyptian petroleum minister. “The forum is made up by natural gas producers and consumers, which means that its members are badly in need of each other.”

EMGF seems to be inviting more than the attention of natural gas importers. US Energy Secretary Rick Perry and representatives of the European Union, France and the World Bank also attended the meeting.

Perry, who said the forum would lay the groundwork for cooperation among gas producers and consumers, was invited by the EMGF founding states as a guest of honour.

EMGF energy ministers said they would upgrade available natural gas routes, increase them in the future and speed up economic exploitation of reserves. They also promised to benefit from private-sector expertise.

There has been growing interest from international oil and gas companies in the region’s natural gas potential.

“International oil and gas companies will most likely work to make more finds in the future,” said Salah Hafez, the former head of the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation, the executive arm of the Ministry of Petroleum. “In this, these companies will be encouraged by the finds that have already been made in the region.”

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