Egyptian Energy Presses Ahead Despite Criticism

Despite extensive efforts, Egypt has struggled to get their economy back on track in the year since widespread public protests led to the ousting of long-standing president Hosni Mubarak. Political instability and uncertain investors have kept needed international funding at bay, as Cairo works to establish a solid foundation for the country’s first new government after decades of Mubarak leadership. The country’s coveted tourism sector remains weak and despite enormous reported potential, Egypt’s renewable industry has been slow to start as investors and international financing agencies adopt a ‘Wait-and-See’ attitude.

Still, despite the stagnate pace of growth and economic recovery, one sector of the country’s economy has continued to shows signs of life – Egypt’s oil and natural gas producers. According to United States National Public Radio report this week, the country’s General Petroleum Company, the government office charged with making final decisions on exploration and production agreements, has continued to add to the country’s 148 standing partnerships.

The continued rounds of licensing for both on and offshore efforts comes despite strong criticism aimed at how such efforts were carried out under the Mubarak government, with critics leveling complaints at a perceived lack of transparency about pricing and the amount of domestic reserves set aside for exporting.

The continued lack of transparency surrounding the natural gas deals has critics worried that even with Mubarak gone, the Egyptian government may still be allowing the kind of controversial agreements that led to a wave of protest earlier this year. The backlash came soon after an investigation uncovered payment agreements with Israel and Jordan for Egyptian natural gas that assured under-market prices in exchange for benefits for local government officials. While Jordan was quick to work out a renegotiated deal, contested trade agreements with Israel added to existing strain between new political leaders in Cairo and its eastern neighbor.  The situation was further complicated by a series of now 14 attacks on natural gas pipelines in the Sinai region of Egypt, halting exports again and again. Energy relations between the two countries showed little sign of improving after Cairo cancelled a 2005 export agreement with Israel, who currently depend on Egypt for 40 percent of their energy needs.

More than just lost revenues, the decision to cancel Egypt’s 20-year deal to supply natural gas to Israel is now resulting in a lawsuit filed by investors in the East Mediterranean Gas for violations of bi-lateral investment treaties, according to a Bloomberg report.

Despite such criticism, the government may have little choice than to support new production deals under the pressure of mounting debt and wavering interest from existing project partners. According to Australia’s The National, the Egyptian government has accrued about $4 billion in debt to international energy firms due in part to large-scale purchases to allow for heavily subsidized domestic sales. This comes despite the country’s own 78 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves. This debt has recently increased, according to the report, due to late payments as a result of the country’s recent political instability.

Further complicating the situation for the government and local partners, the country’s recent uncertainty and apparent high cost of operating in Egyptian territory has pushed some international firms to reassess their presence there. In November of last year, Royal Dutch Shell handed back an offshore block, stating that the high costs of operating there overshadowed the possible rate of return.

Still, many firms are looking past the country’s current predicament and ahead to a potentially calmer new year, including Houston’s Apache and the UK’s BP, who are hoping to capitalize on a 2010 offshore effort. In fact, it is the government’s willingness to pursue new deals despite the country’s current challenges that has Apache feeling confident about the months ahead.

“Our operation has continued [uninterrupted] and supported by government partners as evidenced by the issuance of new…leases,” Apache President and Chief Operating Officer Rodney Eichler said, according to a Dow Jones report. “We are optimistic for Apache’s future in Egypt.”

Given the financial limitations of the country’s current government, anything more than new licenses may be too much to hope for. Burdened by significant budget shortfalls, the Egyptian government will be unlikely to consider any price renegotiations with existing production partners, regardless of the additional risks now associated with operating in the country.

However, regardless of either company’s intentions or interests, existing deals could soon come under scrutiny should critics chose to build on the investigation that put a spotlight on the Israeli and Jordanian deals.

“Some terms that are now in question are part of the 2010 deal with BP for the extraction of deepwater Mediterranean gas,” reported NPR. “While many details of the deal have not been made public, it has many critics.”

A similar threat of agreement reviews has foreign partners on edge in Libya, where the country’s transitional government has pledged to take a closer look at those oil and gas agreements completed under Gadaffi.

Originally Published at Newsbase’s Afroil Report. All Rights Reserved.

Image: Modern Egypt.info

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