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Last cargo left Shell-operated Idku facility on March 11

Restart of Damietta plant on hold after deal collapse

Egypt drew one of gas glut's 'shortest straws': Platts Analytics

London — Egyptian LNG exports have ground to a halt with no cargoes shipped from the country's only operational liquefaction facility, the Shell-operated Idku plant, since March 11, data from S&P Global Platts Analytics and Platts trade flow software cFlow showed Tuesday.

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The drop-off in exports comes as spot LNG prices have hit record lows, with the front-month JKM spot Asian LNG price falling to just $1.825/MMBtu in late April.

Egypt is among a small group of spot-exposed LNG exporters that have been forced to curtail production because of the low prices.

Egypt is not short of gas -- in fact it is currently restricted in how much it can produce due to weak domestic demand and limited export capacity.

The problem is cost -- Platts Analytics estimates Egypt's LNG breakeven costs at $4.70/MMBtu FOB from the 7.2 million mt/year capacity Idku plant, making exports at current prices uneconomic.

Shell declined to comment on activity at Idku, saying that it only commented on trade movements in the event of declaration of force majeure at any given asset.

According to Platts Analytics, the government-mandated upstream gas curtailments have led Egyptian gas production to fall to under 160 million cu m/d in May, its lowest level in over two years and nearly 40 million cu m/d lower than levels seen in Q4 2019.

"Egypt continues to struggle amid the expanding global gas glut, with Cairo now extending forced curtailments beyond just upstream gas production and into its LNG exports," Platts Analytics LNG analyst Samer Mosis said Tuesday.

Egyptian LNG exports were already much reduced in Q1, when just six cargoes were shipped, down from 12 cargoes in the first three months of 2019 and from 17 cargoes in Q4 2019.

Idku has also reportedly been hit by COVID-19 related manpower issues, a constraint that could remain in place at least another two months.

Damietta deal

COVID-19 was also a factor in why a deal designed to allow the restart of Egypt's idled Damietta LNG export facility, operated by a partnership between Italy's Eni and Spain's Naturgy, fell through in late April.

Under an agreement in February, the venture Union Fenosa Gas was to be restructured with assets to be divided between Eni and Naturgy, and the 5 million mt/year Damietta LNG plant restarted by June.

However, the inability of workers to access the plant due to the coronavirus and a significant devaluation of the asset due to falling prices meant certain milestones that needed to be reached under the deal were missed.

Work to bring the idled facility back to normal operation was expected to take three months, meaning the June deadline for restarting the plant could not have been met.

Naturgy has said it would pursue its claim for $1 billion in compensation from the Egyptian government stemming from a World Bank arbitration award related to the diversion of feedgas for Damietta LNG to the Egyptian domestic market in 2012. That led to the plant being idled.

The total $2 billion award -- with Eni awarded the other $1 billion -- would have been part of the deal reached in February by all the parties.

However, now, the award -- which does not depreciate in value -- is thought to be worth more than the assets themselves.

"If things couldn't get worse, the restart of the idled Damietta LNG facility was again delayed, just as Platts Analytics had long expected would happen," Mosis said.

"It seems Egypt has drawn one of the shortest straws in this year's global gas glut," he said.