Cyprus sees gas deal with Egypt as Cairo weighs Israeli supply

Georgios Georgiou, Paul Tugwell, Salma El Wardany and Tarek El-Tablawy February 21, 2018

NICOSIA, ATHENS and CAIRO (Bloomberg) -- Cyprus is nearing an agreement to sell natural gas to Egypt, marking the second potential supply deal in as many days with the North African country vying to position itself as a regional energy hub after the startup of the giant offshore Zohr field.

Cyprus would supply Egypt from Aphrodite field, which was discovered by Noble Energy Inc. and contains an estimated 4.5 Tcf of gas. Noble Energy, with Delek Drilling-LP, said Monday it plans to sell gas to Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings Ltd. from Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan deposits. Egypt’s government still must approve the proposed 10-year deal for shipments from Israel, the Egyptian oil ministry said Tuesday in an emailed statement.

“Cyprus is close to selling natural gas to Egypt’s liquefied natural gas plants, and we could reach an agreement in the coming weeks,” Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis said in a telephone interview from Nicosia. The Egyptian LNG plants of Idku and Damietta lie some 400 mi (645 km) south of Cyprus.

Political faultlines

Gas discoveries off the eastern Mediterranean island -- together with deposits in Israel, Zohr field off Egypt and prospects for reservoirs off Lebanon -- could create a center of gas production on Europe’s doorstep. While that has given a handful of nations access to vast resources, they’ve only just started to agree on the best way to export the fuel in a region rife with political enmity.

Turkey continues to block Rome-based Eni SpA from carrying out further exploratory drilling in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone. Israel and Lebanon, meanwhile, have traded threats in recent weeks over their contested maritime border.

The area from Cyprus to Lebanon and Egypt may contain additional gas riches, and countries in the region are eager to develop export plans. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the area could hold more than 340 trillion cubic feet of gas, more than U.S. proven reserves.

“This is basically the moment when, finally, all the talk about turning Egypt into a regional gas hub is finally coming true,” Riccardo Fabiani, senior Mideast analyst for Eurasia Group, said.

Egypt's ambitions

Egypt, which used to export gas by pipeline to Israel and Jordan, expects to meet all its needs for the fuel later this year thanks to production from the Eni-operated Zohr field. The most populous Arab nation also has wider ambitions of once again supplying other countries. A new law in Egypt allows private companies like Dolphinus Holdings to import gas and re-export it through the country’s LNG facilities.

“Egypt is proceeding with its plan to achieve self-sufficiency in natural gas by year-end and a surplus in 2019, and moving ahead with its strategy to become a regional hub for energy,” the oil ministry said in an emailed statement. “This includes receiving gas from countries in the East Mediterranean area including Israel and Cyprus.”

Noble Energy and Delek Drilling-LP, the lead partners in Israel’s largest gas fields, proposed supplying around 64 Bcm of natural gas to Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings starting in 2020. Delek has said it expects Zohr output will just meet Egypt’s demand by 2023 and only for a limited time.

In Cyprus, Texas-based Noble Energy and Royal Dutch Shell Plc each own a 35% stake in the Aphrodite field, while Israel’s Delek controls the rest.

Calypso field

“The fact that Shell Energy is the administrator of Egypt’s Idku liquefied natural gas plant favors such a deal,” said Charles Ellinas, CEO of Nicosia-based energy consultant e-CNHC, referring to a potential agreement involving Cyprus and Egypt.

Cyprus has gas beyond Aphrodite. Total SA and Eni found small volumes in 2017 at the Onesiphorus field, confirming the existence of a carbonate platform similar to Egypt’s Zohr, which Eni has described as the largest find in the Mediterranean Sea. Eni also announced on Feb. 8 another discovery in the Calypso field in Cyprus’s Block 6 with “an extended gas column.”

Turkish warships have blocked since Feb. 9 an Eni vessel from carrying out exploratory drilling in the Soupia, or cuttlefish, field in Block 3 of Cyprus’s EEZ, arguing that such activity is unacceptable with a solution to the division of Cyprus. The country has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the northern third of the island following a coup by supporters of the nation’s union with Greece. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign companies from drilling off Cyprus.

“There’s currently a lot of exploration going on in Cypriot waters, and it is likely more gas will be discovered,” Stephen Fullerton, an analyst at consultant Wood Mackenzie, said by phone. “Any further discoveries will be looking for an export route, with Egypt a potential option.”

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