Egypt plans to invest $14.5 billion in developing its refining and petrochemicals sectors over the next five years, its oil minister said, as part of efforts to overcome an energy crisis that has led to near-daily power cuts and hit company profits.
It is also considering floating stakes in some state-owned oil companies on the Egyptian stock exchange.
Sherif Ismail told Reuters in an interview that Egypt was trying to boost its output of refined oil products by 5-10 per cent each year, hoping to reduce its dependence on costly imports.
"Total investments that will be implemented over the next five years will be around $14.5 billion and include $12.5 billion in the refining sector and $1.9 billion in the Ethydco project," Ismail said, referring to a new complex that will produce ethylene and other petrochemicals.
Egypt has struggled to curb its swelling budget deficit whilst meeting soaring energy demands, resulting in daily electricity cuts around the country of 86 million people.
Lines at petrol stations and a shortage of gas that transformed Egypt from net gas exporter to net importer in recent years at huge cost to the state, were among the public grievances against former President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Oil-producing Gulf countries have come to Egypt's aid since the army, prompted by mass protests, ousted Mursi last year, pumping billions of dollars in cash and oil products into the biggest Arab nation.
The government also took the politically sensitive step of introducing deep cuts to energy subsidies in July, which should help curb the deficit but have resulted in price rises of up to 78 per cent on fuel and electricity.
Ismail said Egypt was hoping to produce 5.4 billion cubic feet per day of gas and 695,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil and condensates in the current 2014-15 financial year, and to import about 6.5 million tons of gas and petroleum products annually.
Most of the planned investments will be implemented by state-owned companies and be self-financed or part-financed by local banks, he said.
The oil ministry was also working with local investment banks to look at the potential for offering stakes in state oil companies on the Egyptian stock exchange as part of an effort to overhaul them and improve their finances, Ismail said.
He declined to give the names of the companies or of the banks involved but said the ministry could begin with about five companies, with the first being listed in 2015.
Petrochemicals And Refining Push
Among the largest projects in progress is Ethydco, which is set to produce 460,000 tons a year of ethylene and 400,000 tons of polyethylene when it comes online at the end of 2015.
The complex in Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast will be the largest producer of ethylene and polyethylene in Egypt and will save the country more than $500 million a year that it currently spends on imports, Ismail said.
Ethylene and polyethylene are used in the production of plastics and chemicals.
Egypt is also expanding the Midor refinery, boosting its capacity from 100,000 bpd to 160,000 bpd with the additional output expected to come online at the end of 2017, Ismail said.
The minister predicted that Egypt's diesel output would increase by 4.5 million tons a year once the Midor expansion and an upgrade at the Egyptian Refining Company were complete, covering the country's domestic diesel needs.
Egypt currently produces about 8 million tons of diesel a year. It consumes 500,000 tons of diesel a month, 300,000 tons of LPG, 150,000 tons of gasoline and 500,000 tons of fuel oil, according to official figures.
"The Midor expansion will contribute to providing 20,000 tons of gasoline a year and 1.8 million tons of diesel in addition to liquefied petroleum gas and jet fuel," Ismail said.
Egypt has other projects under way aimed at boosting gasoline production, he added.
It is building a plant in Alexandria to produce 500,000 tons of gasoline a year at a cost of $220 million. It is also adding a unit at the Assiut plant that will produce 400,000 tons of gasoline a year and cost about $258 million, helping to supply Upper Egypt in the south.
Egypt is also building a new oil complex in Suez that will replace an existing and ageing plant at a cost of $430 million to begin operating in the second quarter of 2018, Ismail said.
Exploration and Discovery
The country needs to boost its oil and gas output to meet growing demand but exploration companies have been hesitant to develop untapped gas finds in Egyptian waters partly because the amount the government pays them hardly covers their investment costs.
Egypt has also fallen behind on payments to foreign oil and gas companies, further discouraging them from making the billions of dollars in investments required to tap some of the larger offshore finds or to explore in deep water.
Egypt's oil and gas production from maturing fields in the Nile Delta and Gulf of Suez has declined since the mid-1990s though smaller discoveries have helped to compensate.
Ismail said that investments in exploration and discovery reached $8.2 billion last year and should exceed $8.3 billion in the current year.
"There are developments in the pipeline networks … There are projects to produce gas in the future period such as the third phase of Desouk and 9B at the start of 2016 and 9A West Delta deepwater with BG," he said, naming other projects in Port Said and the western desert that are due to come onstream.
"The cornerstone of the petroleum sector is exploration and discovery."