A NEW ENERGY ERA FOR EGYPT

Egypt has faced challenges to its energy supply in recent years, but is
looking ahead to new opportunities to revive domestic production.
BP Magazine visits the country to find out more.

BP has been helping Egypt to meet its energy needs for more than half a century and today, with its partners, provides almost 10% of the country’s oil production and 40% of its gas. With record investment in major projects in the Nile Delta set to significantly boost the supply of much-needed domestic energy, BP Magazine takes a close-up look at BP’s natural gas operations in Egypt. How is this important fuel for the future reaping rewards for North Africa’s most populous nation?

The world over, Egypt is renowned for the architectural symbols of its ancient history. From Luxor’s Valley of the Kings to Giza’s mythical Sphinx, the North African country is a serious contender for the title of best open-air museum on the planet.

So familiar are these great landmarks that Egypt for the first-time visitor can be a surreal experience, not least when travelling along one of Cairo’s busy five-lane highways and the Great Pyramid of Giza emerges from behind the tower blocks and cranes. Modern life has crept up on this last-remaining Wonder of the Ancient World, but its presence is an ongoing reminder of how great nations achieve great things by making the most of their natural resources.

Back then, it was limestone and granite. Today, Egypt needs to take advantage of a very different kind of natural resource to help realise what’s known as its ‘Vision 2030’. The goal of this strategy is to create a competitive, balanced and diversified economy to achieve sustainable development and improve people’s life quality. The country’s population is growing rapidly, hitting 92 million in November 2016 – an increase of more than 17 million in a decade. That growth means demand for energy is on the rise as well, and the country’s oil and gas sector is firmly in the spotlight.

“Our oil and gas industry is pivotal to the country’s development,” says Minister for Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Tarek El-Molla. “Therefore, our sector’s strategy to become self-sufficient in gas supply, to increase refining capacity and to become a regional energy hub is all geared towards achieving the 2030 vision of Egypt – as a competitive, balanced and diversified economy.

“Everybody knows that we have a fantastic geographical location between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. But, in itself, this is not enough to qualify us. We also have important infrastructure: the Suez Canal, gas processing plants in Damietta and Port Said, refineries on two coasts, the Sumed pipeline running from the Gulf of Suez to offshore Alexandria, a national gas grid and, of course, the natural resources.

“In this way, we’re well positioned to not only produce our own energy in future, but also process supplies from other countries as well.”

Production partners

BP’s presence in Egypt stretches back more than half a century, with investments totalling almost $30 billion. “There’s undoubtedly a great history here,” says BP’s regional president for North Africa, Hesham Mekawi. “Through our heritage company Amoco, BP helped to set the foundations of the oil and gas industry from the early-1960s. Our role, alongside our partners, has been to provide the energy the country needs.”

Through the Gulf of Suez Petroleum Company (or GUPCO), its joint venture with the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), BP has produced some 40% of the country’s oil. Today, with maturing fields in the Gulf of Suez, GUPCO steadily pumps around 110,000 barrels of oil per day from nine main offshore complexes with more than 110 platforms, as well as extensive onshore processing facilities.

After decades in the oil business in Egypt, BP has recently taken steps to build a world-class gas business in-country as well and now has interests in a portfolio of four fields that supply around 40% of the country’s gas production. This comes through its partnerships with EGPC and the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS), and the Pharaonic Petroleum Company (PhPC), a joint venture with EGAS and Eni created in 2008.

Egypt has been an exporter of hydrocarbons in the past, but, today, is in the position of a net importer of energy, due to turbulent times over the past five years. Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Tarek El-Molla, explains:

“Our challenges over recent years really began with the revolution of 2011 and its consecutive events that led to political instability, security issues and a general slowdown in the Egyptian economy, which was echoed in the oil and gas industry.

“We started to see a large decline in our production, mainly gas, which has lasted for three years. As a result, we immediately started suffering electricity blackouts. In summary, to have insufficient gas for electricity and for industry has been a real challenge.

“After the second revolution in June 2013, we adopted an aggressive strategy to rebuild Egypt – to do business differently, be bolder and more progressive. On the energy front, we needed to quickly close the gap between supply and demand – and that meant, on a temporary basis, through importation. We received the first cargoes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in April 2015, after equipping our ports and other facilities with the right infrastructure to receive them.

“We started working on resuming and expediting our own energy projects by signing and ratifying concession agreements that had been put on hold for three years. One of the success stories at this time was resuming the West Nile Delta project with BP that had practically come to a halt due to instability. In 2015, we concluded the amendment to that concession agreement with BP. We have made real progress on this front and, in total, we’ve signed more than 70 new or amended agreements with different partners in the past three years.”

says Tarek El-Molla, Minister for Petroleum and Mineral Resources

For BP in Egypt, the West Nile Delta project represents another major milestone in its long history here. “It is exciting because we’re turning a new page that will be all about gas. And every molecule we produce domestically – at half the cost of imports – is crucial to help rebuild the nation’s economy,” says Mekawi.

Fast-track gas

The $12 billion investment to develop discoveries in the West Nile Delta will provide around 1.2 billion cubic feet a day of gas for Egypt’s national grid. First gas is due this year from two of the five fields in the development, located about 85 kilometres offshore from Alexandria, the country’s second-largest city.

Phase one of the West Nile Delta (WND) project is set to be operational a little more than two years since agreements were signed, with two fields – Taurus and Libra – being ‘fast-tracked’ to reach production in 2017. The key to expediting this section of the project is making the most of existing infrastructure. The three other fields – Giza, Fayoum and Raven – are being developed at the same time, involving dedicated, longer-distance tie-backs to the shore.

Once gas is flowing from the five fields, their output – together with other major projects, such as Atoll – will help BP Egypt to achieve its target to triple its current net production level by 2020. Moreover, the WND project signals a milestone for BP in the country, not simply because of its scale, but it is the first operated by the business in its 54-year history here. “This is a mega-project in terms of investment and there is complexity in its execution,” says Mekawi. Effectively splitting the project in two and fast-tracking two of the five fields will allow the team to meet what Gerry McGurk, BP’s vice president for projects, West Nile Delta, describes as “a tight schedule in gas production commitment.” Although Taurus and Libra are a subsea greenfield development – with nine wells and a 38-kilometre tie-back – there is capacity in a nearby export pipeline and an onshore processing facility to accommodate the gas, after extensive modifications. When Giza and Fayoum also come into production sometime in 2019, their gas will be processed in a neighbouring plant that, in a first for BP, has now been purchased by the business from a joint venture. The Rosetta plant will be modified and refurbished to make it fit for purpose for the incoming gas. The final piece in the onshore jigsaw puzzle is the brand-new plant to be constructed on adjacent land for Raven, the only field with high-temperature, high-pressure resources.

While the overall concept for the five-field project may seem complex, there are economic and social benefits to this approach. In fact, it clearly represents a development ‘of its time’ – in a low-cost business environment, when a country needs domestic energy as swiftly as possible.

Job opportunities are prioritised for skilled local people from the surrounding communities of Idku and Rashid. During the peak construction period, 5,000 people will work directly or indirectly on the project, with a focus on upskilling programmes for subcontractors and suppliers. Through these and other social investment initiatives, the project aims to make a difference on both a national and local level – during the production period and beyond.

Sustainable growth

While a handful of giant energy and manufacturing facilities sit on the dusty shoreline of Beheira Governorate, the local economy thrives on a diverse range of industries, from fishing to basket weaving, agriculture to tobacco.

“Our location on the edge of the Mediterranean has provided us with a long fishing history and the climate has allowed us to make the most of natural resources, giving Beheira a special status in Egypt,” says MP for Idku Ahmed Nassar. “In fact, this is known as the city of the million palms, recognising our large-scale weaving industry.

“We take pride in the successful businesses we’ve built, although the population has faced a level of hardship over the past few years due to the nationwide economic conditions. For our city, there are funding challenges in sectors such as healthcare, education and general infrastructure.”

As part of the West Nile Delta project, BP is supporting community development in these areas through a social investment programme. “Our plan is to deliver a tailored programme that truly reflects our values, showing respect for local needs and local culture,” says Sherif Selim, the project’s community engagement manager.

For health professionals, new funding is making a difference. In 2016, two hospitals – in Idku and nearby Rashid – received EGY£9.4 million between them to invest in their emergency response services.

At Idku hospital – serving a population of about 150,000 – the donation has funded ventilators, defibrillators, an ultrasound machine, CT scanner, cardiac monitors and medication pumps. “The new machines have already saved lives, and given our doctors more technical experience,” says hospital director and general surgeon, Ahmed Mohamed Al Gameel.

As well as healthcare, the BP social investment programme is supporting local entrepreneurship. Established a year ago, a microfinance initiative has awarded more than 1,000 interest- and fee-free loans to successful applicants to assist them with small business ventures.

“It’s delivering an immediate impact by giving people the chance to achieve an independent, sustainable and sufficient source of income,” says Selim. “And the loans not only help the recipient, but their families as well.”

Administered by non-governmental organisations in Idku and nearby Rashid, last year, loans of up to EGY£10,000 (US$1,100) each went towards a variety of small enterprises, including taxi services, mechanical workshops, cafés, mini-markets, and weaving and fishing businesses.

Women have received almost a third of the loans so far. Among them is Malak Abbas Abu Soliman, who now runs a houseware and textile business from home. “I’ve not worked before, but I needed to help support my husband’s earnings,” she explains. “We have three children in school and the extra income goes towards private lessons to better their education. I’m happy to be able to help support our family for the first time.”

How are BP’s social investment programmes making a difference?

Untold opportunity

From indirect support for learning in the communities where it operates, to annual funding programmes for students to attend internationally-renowned universities, BP Egypt backs a number of initiatives that focus on education, training and skills development.

For BP’s regional president, Hesham Mekawi, this commitment to education makes sense for the business, as well as wider society. He’s most proud of the scholarship programme that has, for 16 years, been sending Egyptian graduates to the UK’s University of Cambridge.

“Every year, I meet and interview all the young people and it’s one of my best days in the calendar,” he says. “In 2016, we supported eight students – each one of them so impressive. The only thing we ask in return is that they come back and spend two years in Egypt, working in any field, after completing their studies, to contribute to the development of their country.”

“I completed my Master’s in development studies at the University of Cambridge in 2014 and two years later, I attended the G20 summit in China in my role as an economist with the Egyptian Ministry of Finance. It was great exposure to attend the technical meetings and accompany the minister, to understand how other countries are preparing their growth strategies. My experience at Cambridge shaped my character in ways that are highly appreciated by employers here, but I would never have been able to study there without the BP scholarship. It was the most enriching year of my life so far.”

Yosra Bedair, former BP scholar

While not all these scholars enter the energy industry, the BP leadership team is conscious of the need to continually nurture local talent and, in particular, women in technical and engineering roles. “It has been a priority of mine to develop national staff over the past period and I am proud to say that 90% of the regional leadership team based in Egypt are Egyptians,” Mekawi says. “But, like the rest of the industry, we can do better when it comes to women.”

BP Egypt is trying to address this gender challenge in many ways. For example, by ensuring that candidate slates and interview panels for job vacancies are diverse, by supporting flexible working when needed, and by robust talent management and development planning to help women achieve their full potential.

It’s still about equal opportunities, and providing the necessary support, according to country human resources manager Nashwa Hamzawy, because “the talent is out there.” That proved to be the case when the business took on five new graduate recruits in 2016 for the Upstream wells organisation – three of whom are female.

Individuals are already leading the way in engineering and technical disciplines, hoping that their work will also inspire other women. Four years ago, drilling engineer Dena Hageb, 26, joined BP on the graduate programme. Now, she’s working for a global team in Houston, US. With a degree in petroleum and energy engineering and a passion for maths and physics, she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a driller.

“I like challenges, which is fortunate because a month after joining BP, I first flew out offshore. There were 180 people on board the drilling rig; myself and 179 men. Egypt, in some respects, can be described as having a traditional culture and some men working offshore are not used to having a woman on board. It’s important to know that you have the support of your managers and the business. I knew that if I was going to take on the challenge, I needed to join a company that believes in diversity and supports its staff to fulfil their potential.”

Dena Hageb, drilling engineer

New prospects

Developing young, local talent is a priority for BP in Egypt and a new generation of geoscientists has been at the heart of a string of hydrocarbon discoveries across the Nile Delta. In fact, the past five years have been among the company’s most successful for exploration activity.

“Many of BP’s big discoveries announced since 2012 in Egypt have been led by our younger generation, who have developed through our Challenge graduate programme and are taking on responsibilities early in their careers,” says exploration director for Egypt, Ahmed Hagras.

Among the recent discoveries in the East Nile Delta, the Atoll field has been ‘fast-tracked’ to bring gas swiftly into the Egyptian market as well, through BP’s joint venture, PhPC. Discovered in March 2015, the Atoll field is expected to produce up to 300 million cubic feet a day during its first phase, starting in the first half of 2018.

“Atoll is an important project in the North Damietta concession, that is about 40 kilometres from existing Pharaonic infrastructure,” says Mahmoud Mossad, BP general manager for PhPC. “The early production facilities will incorporate three subsea wells that will be tied back to a pipeline, with gas coming onshore into an existing processing facility. Production from this phase alone should almost match the volume that Pharaonic produces today.”

For BP’s technical team in Egypt, the Atoll deepwater discovery highlighted the geological significance of the Oligocene rock layer, as Hagras explains: “BP started exploration in the Nile Delta very early and made big discoveries in the shallow stratigraphy, mainly in the Pliocene and Messinian.

“However, within these layers of rock, the size of the discoveries became smaller and smaller over time – meaning you need to drill deeper for more resources. The deepest layers, such as the Oligocene, are very rich, and they balance out the decline in the shallower areas. Not only do they provide larger volumes of hydrocarbons, but they are also liquid-rich in the form of gas condensate. In this state, the gas is very versatile and requires less processing, making it more valuable.”

Hagras and his team have also shifted exploration focus towards near-shore and onshore opportunities since 2013. Although they’re studying the same geological structures as farther offshore, the emphasis switches to a lower-cost environment. One early result with this strategy came with
the Nooros-1 discovery in the Central Nile Delta in July 2015, with partner Eni, just 22 kilometres from the coastline and in water depths of 25 metres.

The joint venture drilled a further five wells to test the area, with four resulting in discoveries. First production came only 10 months after the initial find, in what Hagras describes as “a great example of exploration opportunities delivering resources in shorter cycle times.”

BP is also drilling its first Onshore Oligocene well, called Mocha, where it hopes to replicate the success seen in the offshore prospects. The target depth of around six kilometres will make this the deepest well drilled in the Onshore Nile Delta. With the complexity of these high-pressure, high-temperature wells, reaching target could be a lengthy process. But, the team is encouraged by encountering a gas pay in the Messinian reservoir on the way to the target.

Summing up BP’s view on future exploration opportunities in Egypt, Mekawi says, “We believe the Nile Delta is a world-class basin and there is a lot of gas to be discovered here. So, we’re investing here because we believe there’s more to come and because we’re confident that we can bring the know-how, technology and finances that fit with the country’s needs.”

For BP, a business that has operated through joint ventures in Egypt for more than half a century now, the future looks assured, as a new era of gas becomes a reality. With a wave of projects due to come onstream, an interest in the super-giant Zohr – the biggest discovery in the Mediterranean – and continued exploration set to take place in and around incumbent fields, it is hoped that the Nile Delta will yield further resources in the years to come.

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  • Credits
  • Report: Amanda Breen
  • Photography: Stuart Conway / Adobe Stock
  • Video: Polar Media
  • Design and graphics: Nick Edwards
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