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'Important' gas project to be revealed as six east Med states launch forum: Egyptian minister

Highlights

East Mediterranean Gas Forum officially launched

Member countries are in talks to develop Gaza gas field

Forum's launch coincides with increased Turkish activity in regional waters

Dubai — An "important" regional natural gas project will be revealed soon, Egypt's energy minister said Sept. 22, as six east Mediterranean states and the Palestinian National Authority launched a Cairo-based gas forum that seeks to promote regional cooperation and develop joint gas projects at a time when Turkey is actively exploring their waters.

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Egyptian petroleum and mineral resources minister Tarek el-Molla gave no more details about the project after a signing ceremony to create the East Mediterranean Gas Forum. Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Italy, as well as the Palestinian National Authority, are members.

"Gas is a peacemaker," Molla told an Egypt Petroleum Show webinar after the signing ceremony. "We are looking forward to have many countries to join, whether as observers or as members." France has also asked to be a full member, he said.

Turkish aspirations

The forum's establishment coincides with increasing Turkish exploration activity in the Mediterranean that has irked neighboring countries, particularly its actions in Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone and the signing of a maritime memorandum with war-torn Libya, where it is supporting one of two rival groups.

Turkey's state-owned TPAO has drilled a handful of wells offshore Cyprus in the past year, and a seismic vessel has spent the past month surveying a large area in disputed waters between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.

Turkey, which in August announced a 320 Bcm gas discovery in the Black Sea, has hoped to replicate significant East Mediterranean discoveries such as Egypt'sZohr field, Israel's Leviathan and Tamar, and three discoveries offshore Cyprus.

The importance of the East Mediterranean's gas importance came to the fore in 2015 with ENI's discovery of the 30 Tcf supergiant Zohr field, helping bring the North African country back to self-sufficiency in gas in 2018.

Egypt boosted its gas production by 12.4% to a record 7.2 billion scf/d in the last 2019-2020 fiscal year and is undertaking new exploration activities, the CEO of state-owned company EGAS said Sept. 20.

Gaza field

The EMGF members are in talks to develop the Gaza Marine gas field, Molla said. The 1-Tcf project in the waters off the Gaza Strip was discovered by UK's BG Group in 2000, before the majority of the major gas discoveries in the East Mediterranean offshore Israel, Egypt and Cyprus, but has not moved to the development stage.

"We have the Gaza Marine gas field, which now we are taking together with the Palestinians and Israel in order to work together in order to develop this discovery there," Molla said.

In 2018, Shell sold its 90% stake and operating role in the Gaza Marine gas field to the Palestine Investment Fund, which had planned to bring in a new partner to develop the long-delayed project.

Shell had inherited the field through its acquisition of the BG Group in 2016.

Pipeline project

Cyprus and Israel have also made significant gas discoveries in the past decade.

There has been progress in the past year, with Israel starting up Leviathan and beginning pipeline exports, and Cyprus reaching a provisional deal to pipe gas from its Aphrodite field to Egypt.

The creation of EMGF comes at a critical time, with Israel having started gas exports to Egypt and Jordan at the start of 2020.

Another key project in the region has the political backing of Cyprus, Greece and Israel: the planned 1,900 km, 10 Bcm/year EastMed pipeline designed to link the offshore gas resources of both Cyprus and Israel to Greece by 2025.

The pipeline is being developed by IGI Poseidon, a joint venture between Italy's Edison and Greece's DEPA.