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Italian Energy Giant Discovers 'Largest Ever' Gas Field in Mediterranean Off Coast of Egypt

The gas field could hold upwards of 30 trillion cubic feet of gas — the equivalent of 5.5 billion barrels of oil — enough for Egypt to become self-sufficient in energy within five years.

by Pierre-Louis Caron
Aug 31 2015, 7:17pm

Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi, third left, and his delegation meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, center, and an Egyptian delegation in Cairo. (Photo via AP)

On Sunday, the Italian energy group Eni revealed its discovery of what it described as a "supergiant" gas field located in the Mediterranean Sea some 125 miles off the coast of Egypt. It is said to be the largest of its kind in Egypt or the Mediterranean, and the company suggested that the gas deposits would be enough to meet demand in Egypt for decades.

In a statement released Sunday, Eni said that the field — called "Zohr 1X NFW" — is located 1,450 meters (4,757 feet) underground and encompasses an estimated area of nearly 100 square kilometers (39 square miles).

The gas field could hold upwards of 30 trillion cubic feet of gas — the equivalent of 5.5 billion barrels of oil. Based on current gas prices, the find is worth an estimated $14.5 billion. Prior to the discovery of Zohr 1X NFW, the Mediterranean's largest natural gas field had been theLeviathan, which is located 30 miles off the coast of Haifa, in Israel.

Related: Egypt's President Vows to Defeat Terrorists During Suez Canal Expansion Ceremony

The discovery couldn't come at a better time for Egypt, whose economy has been blighted by four years of political unrest, and for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whose approval ratings have suffered of late.

The energy situation in Egypt is a key issue for the government, which will hold parliamentary elections in October.

No more blackouts?
"This is good news for the country," an energy expert close to the discovery told VICE News on condition of anonymity, noting that the vast reserves would most likely be used to satisfy Egypt's domestic gas needs and put an end to recurrent power cuts. "It's a country that already consumes everything it produces and has a growing need for energy."

Egypt's 83 million residents continue to suffer regular blackouts, as part of the country's ongoing energy crisis.

The new field should also revitalize energy-intensive sectors of Egyptian industry.

Related: Egypt Unveils Plan for Dubai-Style Desert Capital

On the eve of Eni's announcement, Sisi met with Claudio Descalzi, the company's CEO, to congratulate him on "the activity of the company in Egypt and its achievements in the field of oil and gas exploration." Sisi also pledged his government's cooperation "with all serious companies seeking to invest in the field of oil and gas exploration" in Egypt.

In an interview with Ahram Online, Egyptian Petroleum Ministry spokesman Hamdy Abdel-Aziz said that Zohr 1X NFW will be operational within the next three years and that, thanks to the new find, Egypt was on course to be self-sufficient in energy within five years.

Eni was awarded the right to conduct deepwater exploration off the coast of Egypt in 2014, following an international call for tender by the country's government.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi discussed the discovery and its potential impact with Sisi over the phone on Sunday. The Italian government is a major shareholder in Eni, which started operating in Egypt in 1955. That same year, Eni's Egypt-based subsidiary — the International Egyptian Oil Company (IEOC) — discovered oil in the Sinai Peninsula.

IEOC is today Egypt's main hydrocarbon producer, conducting operations at around 30 sites around the country with a daily production equivalent to 200,000 barrels of oil.

Related: Al Jazeera Journalists Sentenced to Prison in 'Dark Day' for Press Freedom in Egypt

Sisi was elected in June 2014, a year after the July 2013 coup in which Egypt's military removed the country's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. A former general who swept to victory with 96.1 percent of the vote, Sisi has recently come under fire for his repressive policies against the Muslim Brotherhood and against freedom of speech. On Saturday, an Egyptian court sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to three years in prison in connection with their coverage of the 2013 coup.

Follow Pierre-Louis Caron on Twitter: @pierrelouis_c

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