Egypt is a rapidly growing natural gas producer. The Suez Canal and Sumed Pipeline are strategic routes for Persian Gulf oil shipments, making Egypt an important transit corridor for world oil markets.

Hydrocarbons play a sizeable role in Egypt’s economy both from oil and natural gas production and also in terms of revenues from the Suez Canal, an important transit point for oil shipments out of the Persian Gulf. Total oil production, however, has declined since the country’s 1996 peak of close to 935,000 bbl/d to current levels of about 660,000 bbl/d. Egypt’s consumption is slightly higher than production and the country has begun to rely on a small volume of imports to meet domestic demand. Egypt also has the largest oil-refining sector in Africa and since refining capacity now exceeds domestic demand, some non-Egyptian crude are currently imported for processing and re-export.

Decreases in oil production have been offset by the rapid development of the natural gas sector for both domestic consumption and export. Over the past decade, Egypt has become a significant natural gas producer and a strategic source for European natural gas imports. Egypt currently has a pipeline network for exports to Eastern Mediterranean countries in addition to liquefied natural gas exports to Europe, Asia, and the Americas. However, increasing domestic demand for natural gas has led the government to stall natural gas export expansion plans.

Crude oil declines
According to the Oil and Gas Journal January 2011 estimate, Egypt has proven oil reserves stand at 4.4 billion barrels, an increase from 2010 reserve estimates of 3.7 billion barrels. In 2010, Egypt’s total oil production averaged 660,000 (bbl/d), of which approximately 540,000 bbl/d was crude oil. Despite new discoveries and enhanced oil recovery techniques at mature fields, crude oil production continues its decline. At the same time, new natural gas field production has led to increases in the production of natural gas liquids and lease condensates which have offset some of the declines in total oil liquids production. Oil consumption is estimated to be close to 710,000 bbl/d, slightly higher than production. Oil imports are expected to continue with some refined product exports in the short-term, but are still contingent on domestic demand growth. The country did register a small volume of net oil imports in 2010. These imports are, in part, the result of Egypt s refining capacity being larger than oil production.

Domestic demand for petroleum products continues to grow. The government had been planning to reduce demand growth by gradually lifting subsidized prices and targeting subsidies more effectively. This is a politically sensitive issue that will be difficult to fully implement. The increased use of compressed natural gas as a fuel for motor vehicles is one trend that may aid government efforts in curbing demand, but natural gas is also subsidized and increasing consumption is beginning to affect natural gas exports.

Egyptian oil production comes from five main areas; primarily the Gulf of Suez and the Nile Delta in addition to the Western Desert, the Eastern Desert, and the Mediterranean Sea. Most Egyptian production is derived from mature, relatively small fields that are connected to larger regional production systems. Overall production is in decline, particularly from the older fields in the Gulf of Suez. However, some declines have been offset by small yet commercially viable discoveries in all producing areas.

Egypt's Oil Production Consumption 1990-2010

Natural gas potentials
Egypt’s natural gas sector is expanding rapidly with production quadrupling between 1998 and 2009. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Egypt’s estimated proven gas reserves stand at 77 trillion cubic feet an increase from 2010 estimates of 58.5 Tcf and the third highest in Africa after Nigeria (187 Tcf) and Algeria (160 Tcf) . In 2009, Egypt produced roughly 2.3 Tcf and consumed 1.6 Tcf. With the ongoing expansion of the Arab Gas Pipeline, and LNG facilities, Egypt will continue to be an important supplier of natural gas to Europe and the Mediterranean region.

Exploration and production activities in Egypt’s natural gas sector continue to grow. While there have been marked decreases in the production of natural gas associated with oil extraction, new finds of non-associated gas fields combined with growing domestic demand and export capacity, are increasing interest in the Egyptian natural gas sector. Most industry analysts place Egypt’s natural gas production on an upward trend in the short- and medium-term despite the existing limitations to the sector’s growth. To promote exploration in the more expensive deep water offshore, the Egyptian government revised pricing policies by agreeing to pay more for natural gas produced in these areas, assuring continued international interest in developing these potential resources.  Over 80 % of Egypt’s natural gas reserves and 70 % of production is in the Mediterranean and Nile Delta but exploration and production continue in all major hydrocarbon rich areas including the Western Desert.

Egypt began exporting natural gas in the mid-2000s with the completion of the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) in 2004 and the startup of the first three LNG trains at Damietta in 2005. In 2009, Egypt exported close to 650 billion cubic feet of natural gas, around 70 % of which was exported in the form of LNG and the remaining 30 % via pipelines. Egyptian pipeline exports travel through the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) that provides gas to Lebanon, Jordan and Syria with further additions being planned. The Arish-Ashkelon pipeline addition, which branches away from the AGP in the Sinai Peninsula and connects to Ashkelon, Israel, began operations in 2008. Domestic pressure over contracts, pricing for exports to Israel, and technical problems caused a few interruptions but exports resumed in 2009.

Egypt's Natural Gas Production Consumption 1999-209

Strategic routes: Suez Canal & SUMED
Year-to-date through November of 2010, petroleum (both crude oil and refined products) as well as liquefied natural gas (LNG) accounted for 13% and 11% of Suez cargos, measured by cargo tonnage, respectively. Total petroleum transit volume was close to 2 million bbl/d, or just below five % of seaborne oil trade in 2010.

Almost 16,500 ships transited the Suez Canal from January through November 2010, of which about 20% were petroleum tankers and 5% were LNG tankers. With only 1,000 feet at its narrowest point, the Canal is unable to handle the VLCC (Very Large Crude Carriers) and ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carriers) class crude oil tankers. The Suez Canal Authority is continuing enhancement and enlargement projects on the canal, and extended the depth to 66 ft in 2010 to allow over 60 % of all tankers to use the Canal. Closure of the Suez Canal and the SUMED Pipeline would divert oil tankers around the southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, adding approximately 6,000 miles to transit, increasing both costs and shipping time.

On the other hand, the 200-mile long SUMED Pipeline, or Suez-Mediterranean Pipeline provides an alternative to the Suez Canal for those cargos too large to transit the Canal (laden VLCC’s and larger). The pipeline has a capacity of 2.3 million bbl/d and flows north from Ain Sukhna, on the Red Sea coast to Sidi Kerir on the Mediterranean. The SUMED is owned by Arab Petroleum Pipeline Co., a joint venture between the EGPC, Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi’s National Oil Company, and Kuwaiti companies. The majority of crude oil flows transiting the Canal travel northbound, towards markets in the Mediterranean and North America. Northbound canal flows averaged approximately 428,000 bbl/d in 2010. The SUMED pipeline accounted for 1.15 million bbl/d of crude oil flows along the route over the same period. Combined, these two transit points were responsible for over 1.5 million bbl/d of crude oil flows into the Mediterranean, with an additional 307,000 bbl/d travelling southbound through the Canal. Northbound crude transit represented a decline from 2008 when 940,000 bbl/d of oil transited northbound through the Canal and an additional 2.1 million travelled through the SUMED to the Mediterranean.

Total oil and gas products
Total oil flows from the Suez Canal declined from 2008 levels of over 2.4 million bbl/d in 2008 to just under 2 million bbl/d on average in 2010. Flows through the SUMED experienced a much steeper drop from approximately 2.1 million bbl/d to 1.1 million bbl/d over the same period. The year-on-year difference reflects the collapse in world oil market demand that began in the fourth quarter of 2008, which was then followed by OPEC production, cuts (primarily from the Persian Gulf) causing a sharp fall in regional oil trade starting in January 2009. Drops in transit also illustrate the changing dynamics of international oil markets where Asian demand is increasing at a higher rate than European and American markets, while West African crude production is meeting a greater share of the latter’s demand. At the same time, piracy and security concerns around the Horn of Africa have led some exporters to travel the extra distance around South Africa to reach western markets.

Unlike oil, LNG transit through the Suez Canal has been on the rise since 2008, with the number of tankers increasing from approximately 430 to 760, and volumes of LNG traveling northbound (laden tankers) increasing more than four-fold. Southbound LNG transit originates in Algeria and Egypt, destined for Asian markets while northbound transit is mostly from Qatar and Oman, destined for European and North American markets. The rapid growth in LNG flows over the period represents the startup of five LNG trains in Qatar in 2009-2010. The only alternate route for LNG tankers would be around Africa as there is no pipeline infrastructure to offset any Suez Canal disruptions. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Italy received more than half of their total LNG imports via the Suez Canal in 2009 while over 90 % of Belgium’s LNG imports transited through the canal.

Prepared by Mostafa Mabrouk, Vice Chairman Assistant For Economic Affairs, Ganope