The Petroleum Ministry has obtained approval from the Defense Ministry for the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (GASCO) to offer a tender for international companies to explore for gas in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time, in four areas near Egypt’s eastern border with Israel.

Petroleum Ministry sources said the Defense Ministry received details of the exploration areas in order to protect investments in the gas project, which GASCO has valued at US$4 billion.

The sources added that some of the new areas touch the maritime boundary line that was previously established between Egypt and Israel, and that the exploration is consistent with international law and the high seas demarcation treaty that Egypt and most United Nations member states signed in 1983.

“The tender will be offered this week,” said Petroleum Minister Abdullah Ghorab.

GASCO Chairman Mohamed Shoaib said the region is rich with natural gas. “The tender would increase our production and serve our development plans,” he said.

The United States Geological Survey estimates the gas reserves of that region at 223 trillion cubic feet, while the Egyptian government official quantities announced are 76 trillion cubic feet, which means three times more gas may be there than the government has believed. “We shall therefore offer more tenders in the coming three years,” explained Mostafa Bahr, GASCO’s vice president for exploration.

Ramadan Abul Ela, a professor of petroleum engineering at Pharos University in Alexandria, said this was a good step, although it came late. “Neighboring countries like Lebanon, Israel and Cyprus have increased exploration and plan to enter into military and political partnerships to secure gas discoveries in the Mediterranean,” he said.

Source: Egypt Independent