‘Supergiant’ gas find gives Egypt hope, Israel concerns

Friday 04/09/2015
Eni onshore plant in Egypt

CAIRO - The just-discovered Zohr project “supergiant” natural gas field in the Mediterranean could ease energy shortages in Egypt and turn Cairo into a net gas export­er while dampening Israeli hopes for expanding Middle East markets for its own supplies.

Italian energy company Eni said a field containing potential reserves of 850 billion cubic metres was found about 180 kilometres off the Egyptian coastal city of Port Said. The field is expected to be produc­ing natural gas in about three years.

Eni Chief Executive Officer Clau­dio Descalzi, speaking on US cable network CNBC, said the discovery “is changing the game for Egypt” and could meet the country’s en­ergy demands “for decades”.

Egypt has natural gas reserves of 2 trillion cubic metres and produces 127 million cubic metres of the fuel every day. It needs, however, to meet daily demand of 200 million cubic metres of gas.

The Zohr field is expected to bridge the gap between production and consumption.

“Zohr is the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and in the Med­iterranean Sea,” Eni said in a news release. “Eni will immediately ap­praise the field with the aim of ac­celerating a fast-track development of the discovery that will utilise at best the existing offshore and on­shore infrastructures.”

The natural gas discovery was welcomed by Mohamed Abdul­lah, a 32-year-old barber from Giza province.

“We will get rich,” Abdullah said, a smile growing across his face. “Sisi [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi] will use the money coming from the field to feed the hungry.”

In Israel, Egypt’s north-eastern neighbour, the Zohr discovery is a source of worry, apprehension and even pessimism.

Israel was preparing to put it­self on the map as a major natural gas producer after the discovery of huge natural gas reserves off its coast. The Leviathan and Tamar natural gas fields have total re­serves of about 566 billion cubic metres.

Israel’s plans had been to export the gas to neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, and it was hoping energy-starved Egypt would also become a customer.

However, to use Descalzi’s im­agery, the game is suddenly chang­ing to Cairo’s benefit.

Egypt’s Zohr project lies in shal­lower waters than Israel’s reserves, making site development much easier.

Leviathan and Tamar were dis­covered in 2009 and 2010 but ex­ploiting the resource has proved dif­ficult. Tamar began producing gas in 2013; product from Leviathan is expected on the market in 2017.

But the Zohr find means that Egypt will have no need to import the gas from Israel, according to Mohamed Shoeib, the former head of the Egyptian state-owned Natu­ral Gas Holding Company.