NICOSIA, Cyprus: The discovery of a huge natural gas deposit in Egyptian waters has boosted hopes of other such finds in the eastern Mediterranean that could help meet Europe’s energy needs, a senior official with Italian oil and gas company Eni said Tuesday.
Eni SpA Chief Exploration Officer Luca Bertelli told a gas conference Tuesday that his company’s “milestone” discovery of Zohr, estimated to hold 30 trillion cubic feet of gas, has reinvigorated the interest of other major oil and gas companies in the region.
He said waters off Cyprus hold potential for new discoveries while exploration opportunities are coming up with Lebanon and Israel soon offering offshore areas, or blocks, to bidders for exploration licensing.
Bertelli said Eni expects the first gas to start flowing from Zohr by the end of 2017 to meet Egypt’s domestic demand for decades. Fully developing the deposit will cost up to €12 billion ($12.8 billion).
For export, Bertelli said Egypt could bring two idle processing plants back on stream to liquefy gas so it can be exported to the European markets.
He said geological features off Cyprus are similar to those around where the Zohr deposit was discovered, raising hopes for new finds. Earlier drilling by Texas-based Noble Energy discovered a field estimated to contain over 4 trillion cubic feet in reserves.
If more fields are discovered off Cyprus, the island could opt to build a processing plant of its own to export gas, said Bertelli.
Now that Eni’s gas discovery has put Egypt’s Mediterranean waters on the map, major international oil companies say they plan to step up their investments in the country, expecting to find more oil and gas.
Once a net gas exporter, Egypt has turned into a major importer in recent years as growing domestic demand outstripped production, but the discovery of the Zohr field is expected to change that.
The field is expected to come into production by the end of the year and will save Egypt billions of dollars in hard currency that would otherwise be spent on imports.
The Egyptian government is also seeking to attract foreign investors as it seeks to transform itself into a gas trading hub for its own and other emerging Mediterranean producers.
Globally, Egypt remains outside the top 10 countries in gas reserves, with Russia, Iran and Qatar holding by far the largest.