Eastern Mediterranean countries to form regional gas market

CAIRO (Reuters) - Eastern Mediterranean countries meeting in Cairo agreed to set up a forum to create a regional gas market, cut infrastructure costs and offer competitive prices, Egypt’s petroleum ministry said on Monday.

The organization aims to “create a regional gas market that serves the interests of its members by ensuring supply and demand, optimizing resource development, rationalizing the cost of infrastructure, offering competitive prices and improving trade relations,” among other goals, the statement said.

The announcement is part of efforts to transform the Eastern Mediterranean into a major energy hub.

The others involved are Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinians. Other Eastern Mediterranean countries and transitory countries may join the forum later, the ministry said in a statement.

The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum will be based in Cairo and will be open to monitoring by international and regional organizations.

The forum will support producing countries by “enhancing their cooperation with consuming and transitory parties in the region, taking advantage of existing infrastructure and developing further infrastructure options to accommodate current and future discoveries,” the statement said.

It will also assist consuming countries by “securing their needs and allowing their participation with the transitory countries in the development of gas policies in the region, thus enabling the establishment of a sustainable partnership between the actors at all stages of the gas industry.”

In September, Israel and Egypt bought a 39 percent stake in the EMG pipeline, paving the way for a landmark $15 billion natural gas export deal to begin this year.

Cyprus is also in talks with Egypt to construct a pipeline connecting Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field to Egypt’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities.

Egypt has rapidly increased its production of natural gas and hopes to become a hub for exporting to Europe after making a series of big discoveries in recent years, including the largest gas field in the Mediterranean, Zohr.

Jordan’s energy minister said in November that Egyptian gas was expected to reach Jordan this month, after experimental pumping began in September.

Egypt is betting that its strategic location straddling the Suez Canal, its land bridge between Asia and Africa and its well developed infrastructure, including an extensive pipeline network and two idle gas liquefaction plants, will help turn it into a trading and distribution center for countries in the region and beyond.

Reporting by Ehab Farouk; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by David Evans