OTC: Egypt eyes free-market future as gas demand requires more development

The recent Zohr discovery in Egypt’s Mediterranean basin has given the country an impetus to further its move to an open oil economy, according Minister Tarek Elmolla of Egypt’s Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ministry (OGJ Online, Mar. 10, 2016).

Among paying down its debt, reforming its subsidy programs, and adjusting natural gas prices, “attracting foreign investment is one of our biggest challenges,” Elmolla told attendees of a May 3 panel discussion at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

Egypt’s daily natural gas demand currently outpaces its production. The country has become increasingly dependent on gas, which makes up 53% of its total energy mix and 63% of its electricity-generating feedstock, Elmolla said.

Speaking on the same panel, Apache Corp. Chief Executive Officer John Christmann said, “With a population of 90 million, Egypt is the largest consumer of natural gas in Africa.” The Houston-based independent has operated in Egypt since 1994. Apache’s onshore development in the country accounts for 19% of overall reserves and 23% of its production as of 2015, Christmann said.

The panel did not shy away from addressing the current low oil pricing environment, and by all indications, Egypt’s potential may supersede any short-term effects of the resulting downturn. “In a sub-$50/bbl world, international portfolios shine through,” Christmann said. Apache is heavily invested in Egypt and the North Sea, “both of which feature long-cycle projects that remain competitive at lower prices,” he said.

Apache also is the largest independent working in Egypt, where the producer is up to 328,420 boe/d. In 2015, Apache netted $400 million from its Egyptian operations, and the country accounts for 40% of its spending—higher than the operator’s US spending at this time.

With this example, the Egypt Ministry of Petroleum is working to modernize the ways in which its oil and gas operations are carried out in the country. While new laws await ratification, in the near future Egyptian exploration will take place through a system that “more resembles a free-market approach,” Elmolla said. This includes segregated controls between the Ministry of Petroleum, an independent regulating body, and with both national oil companies and independents working within that system.

Matt Loffman, manager at Douglas-Westwood, projected that worldwide gas demand will increase 40% through 2035. As the next generation of the power generation industry phases out coal, Egypt stands to increase its ranking as a global gas supplier. But Egypt’s demand also is expected to double over this time, Loffman added. Douglas-Westwood predicts that Egypt’s gas production will reach 2 million boe/d by 2022.

Egypt’s government is addressing this future demand in several ways. In addition to the fast-track approach of developing the Zohr prospect (OGJ Online, Apr. 28, 2016), which broke ground in March, there remains an abundance of exploration and development opportunities. Elmolla cited a 223 tcf potential in the Nile Delta, along with unknown quantities in the underexplored Upper Egypt and Red Sea regions. In addition, the ministry is currently carrying out a 3D seismic program for the West Mediterranean in the offshore Herodotus basin.

Elmolla said Egypt plans to add 6 bcfd to its production in 5 years, which will include $35 billion invested in expanding the country’s infrastructure. As refining capacity is expected to see a 10% increase to 31 million tonnes/year in the same period, investments will also add 1,100 km of oil and gas pipelines in the country.

Egypt will offer up to 28 blocks for a bid round in several weeks, Elmolla confirmed.

Contact Tayvis Dunnahoe at tayvisd@ogjonline.com.

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