ISSN 2330-717X

Egypt Energy Profile: Suez Canal And Sumed Pipeline Strategic For Persian Gulf Oil Shipments


Hydrocarbons play a sizeable role in Egypt’s economy both from oil and natural gas production and also in terms of revenues from the Suez Canal, an important transit point for oil shipments out of the Persian Gulf. Total oil production, however, has declined since the country’s 1996 peak of close to 935,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) to current levels of about 660,000 bbl/d. Egypt’s consumption is slightly higher than production and the country has begun to rely on a small volume of imports to meet domestic demand. Egypt also has the largest oil refining sector in Africa and since refining capacity now exceeds domestic demand, some non-Egyptian crudes are currently imported for processing and re-export.


Decreases in oil production have been offset by the rapid development of the natural gas sector for both domestic consumption and export. Over the past decade, Egypt has become a significant natural gas producer and a strategic source for European natural gas imports. Egypt currently has a pipeline network for exports to Eastern Mediterranean countries in addition to liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to Europe, Asia, and the Americas. However, increasing domestic demand for natural gas has led the government to stall natural gas export expansion plans. The government has been actively working to attract foreign investments in the sector to increase exploration, production and downstream activities.

In addition to oil and gas production, Egypt plays an important role in international energy markets through the operation of the Suez Canal and Suez-Mediterranean (SUMED) Pipeline, two routes for the export of Persian Gulf oil and LNG. Fees collected from operation of these two transit points is a significant source of revenue for the Egyptian government.

Almost all of Egypt’s 3.2 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy consumption in 2008 was met by oil (45 percent) and natural gas (49 percent). Oil’s share of the energy mix is mostly in the transportation sector but with the development of compressed natural gas (CNG) infrastructure and vehicles, the share of natural gas in the transportation sector is expected to grow.

In terms of electricity generation, natural gas accounts for over 70 percent of the total mix, woth the remainder being met mostly by hydroelectricity. Plans are underway to further expand electricity generation capacity by utilizing the country’s vast wind and solar resources, expanding the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Power Grid, and also through development of nuclear power.

Current Situation


Starting the last week of January 2011, popular uprisings began in Egypt with the aim of overthrowing the government of Hosni Mubarak. Because of Egypt’s geographic and demographic size, as well as strategic significance, the social unrest and mass protests have caused concern in world energy markets.

The concerns are two-fold. The immediate and direct concern affecting markets is the potential delays or closure in shipping through the Suez Canal and/or the SUMED Pipeline, two significant international energy shipping channels. The second concern is that this type of uprising in Egypt would spread throughout the broader region, affecting oil and natural gas production out of neighboring countries, namely Algeria and Libya and to a lesser extent, Gulf OPEC countries. At the time of this update, some signs of civil unrest are apparent in neighboring countries but there has been no impact on oil and gas production or transit in Egypt or any of the neighboring countries. However, protests and curfews have caused some problems, while many international companies have begun evacuating foreign nationals.


According to the Oil and Gas Journal’s January 2011 estimate, Egypt’s proven oil reserves stand at 4.4 billion barrels, an increase from 2010 reserve estimates of 3.7 billion barrels. In 2010, Egypt’s total oil production averaged 660,000 (bbl/d), of which approximately 540,000 bbl/d was crude oil. Despite new discoveries and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques at mature fields, crude oil production continues its decline. At the same time, new natural gas field production has led to increases in the production of natural gas liquids and lease condensates which have offset some of the declines in total oil liquids production. Oil consumption is estimated to be close to 710,000 bbl/d, slightly higher than production. Oil imports are expected to continue with some refined product exports in the short-term, but are still contingent on domestic demand growth. The country did register a small volume of net oil imports in 2010. These imports are, in part, the result of Egypt’s refining capacity being larger than oil production levels (see Refinery section below).

Domestic demand for petroleum products continues to grow. The government had been planning to reduce demand growth by gradually lifting subsidized prices and targeting subsidies more effectively. This is a politically sensitive issue that will be difficult to fully implement. The increased use of compressed natural gas as a fuel for motor vehicles is one trend that may aid government efforts in curbing demand, but natural gas is also subsidized and increasing consumption is beginning to affect natural gas exports.

Sector Organization

The Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) is the state entity charged with managing upstream activities including infrastructure, licensing, and production. International and foreign national oil companies play a significant role in Egypt’s upstream sector on a production-sharing basis with EGPC. The energy sector is broken up into three holding companies in addition to the EGPC and the Egyptian Mineral Resource Authority (EMRA): the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS), the Egyptian Petrochemicals Holding Company (ECHEM), and Ganoub El Wadi Petroleum Holding Company (GANOPE).

Exploration and Production

Egyptian oil production comes from five main areas: primarily the Gulf of Suez and the Nile Delta but also the Western Desert, the Eastern Desert, and the Mediterranean Sea. Most Egyptian production is derived from mature, relatively small fields that are connected to larger regional production systems. Overall production is in decline, particularly from the older fields in the Gulf of Suez. However, some declines have been offset by small yet commercially viable discoveries in all producing areas.


Although a net oil importer, Egypt did register about 145,000 bbl/d of crude oil exports in 2010. The majority of these exports went to India (50,000 bbl/d), followed by Italy (29,000 bbl/d), and the United States (16,000 bbl/d). The remainder of Egypt’s crude oil exports went to other European countries and Asia.


Egypt has the largest refining sector on the African continent with ten refineries and a combined crude oil processing capacity of 975,000 bbl/d (OGJ and APS Review). The largest refinery is the 146,300-bbl/d El-Nasr refinery at Suez, which is owned by the Egyptian government through the EGPC and operated by its subsidiary, the El Nasr Petroleum Company. The government has plans to increase production of lighter products, petrochemicals, and higher octane gasoline by expanding and upgrading existing facilities and promoting new projects. Current plans call for expansion of refining capacity by over 600,000 bbl/d by 2016 and even further expansions into the next decade – requiring large amounts of foreign investment.

Natural Gas

Egypt’s natural gas sector is expanding rapidly with production quadrupling between 1998 and 2009. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Egypt’s estimated proven gas reserves stand at 77 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), an increase from 2010 estimates of 58.5 Tcf and the third highest in Africa after Nigeria (187 Tcf) and Algeria (160 Tcf). In 2009, Egypt produced roughly 2.3 Tcf and consumed 1.6 Tcf. With the ongoing expansion of the Arab Gas Pipeline, and LNG facilities, Egypt will continue to be an important supplier of natural gas to Europe and the Mediterranean region.

Natural gas production and consumption 1999-2009

According to Cedigaz, in 2009 the electricity sector accounted for the largest share of natural gas consumption (54 percent) followed by industrial sector (29 percent). While still a relatively small share, Egypt is beginning to incorporate natural gas into the transport sector through the use and development of compressed natural gas vehicles and fueling stations.

The government is also encouraging households, businesses and the industrial sector to consider natural gas as a substitute for petroleum and coal. In January 2008, the World Bank approved loans for the Natural Gas Connections Project, which serves to switch consumption of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to natural gas through investment in new connections and to further expand natural gas use in densely populated, low income areas.

Sector Organization

As is the case with the oil sector, the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) is the state entity charged with managing upstream activities including infrastructure, licensing and production. The promotion of the sector along with the development strategy is managed by the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS). Both EGPC and EGAS work with private companies in joint venture partnerships.

The Egyptian government has an ongoing policy to allocate one third of proven natural gas reserves for domestic market requirements, one third for “future generations”, and the remaining third for exports. Given increasing domestic demand, combined with popular pressures in recent years against LNG and gas export contracts (particularly with Israel), the oil minister declared in mid-2008 that no new gas export contracts would be made. These policies delayed plans to expand the export infrastructure and have also deterred some investment in the more expensive offshore areas.

Exploration and Production

Exploration and production activities in Egypt’s natural gas sector continue to grow. While there have been marked decreases in the production of natural gas associated with oil extraction, new finds of non-associated gas fields combined with growing domestic demand and export capacity, are increasing interest in the Egyptian natural gas sector. Most industry analysts place Egypt’s natural gas production on an upward trend in the short- and medium-term despite the existing limitations to the sector’s growth. To promote exploration in the more expensive deepwater offshore, the Egyptian government revised pricing policies by agreeing to pay more for natural gas produced in these areas, assuring continued international interest in developing these potential resources.

Over 80 percent of Egypt’s natural gas reserves and 70 percent of production is in the Mediterranean and Nile Delta but exploration and production continue in all major hydrocarbon rich areas including the Western Desert.


Egyptian began exporting natural gas in the mid-2000s with the completion of the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) in 2004 and the startup of the first three LNG trains at Damietta in 2005. In 2009, Egypt exported close to 650 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas, around 70 percent of which was exported in the form of LNG and the remaining 30 percent via pipelines.

Pipeline Exports

Egyptian pipeline exports travel through the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) that provides gas to Lebanon, Jordan and Syria with further additions being planned. The Arish-Ashkelon pipeline addition, which branches away from the AGP in the Sinai Peninsula and connects to Ashkelon, Israel began operations in 2008. Domestic pressure over contracts, pricing for exports to Israel, and technical problems caused a few interruptions but exports resumed in 2009.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

Egypt has three LNG trains: Segas LNG Train 1 in Damietta and Egypt LNG trains 1 and 2 in Idku. The combined LNG export capacity is close to 600 Bcf per year with plans to expand in the near future pending export policy changes and legislation. In 2009, LNG exports were approximately 450 Bcf. The largest recipient of Egyptian LNG for 2009 was the United States, which imported around 160 Bcf, representing 35 percent of Egyptian LNG exports for the year and also 35 percent of U.S. LNG imports. Other major destinations for Egyptian LNG include Spain (32 percent) and France (13 percent) with smaller volumes travelling to Canada, Mexico, Asia and other European countries. At the time of writing, neither LNG nor pipeline exports out of Egypt had been affected by the ongoing instability.

Suez Canal / SUMED Pipeline

Suez Canal

The Suez Canal is located in Egypt, and connects the Red Sea and Gulf of Suez with the Mediterranean Sea, spanning 120 miles. Year-to-date through November of 2010, petroleum (both crude oil and refined products) as well as liquefied natural gas (LNG) accounted for 13 and 11 percent of Suez cargos, measured by cargo tonnage, respectively. Total petroleum transit volume was close to 2 million bbl/d, or just below five percent of seaborne oil trade in 2010.

Almost 16,500 ships transited the Suez Canal from January through November of 2010, of which about 20 percent were petroleum tankers and 5 percent were LNG tankers. With only 1,000 feet at its narrowest point, the Canal is unable to handle the VLCC (Very Large Crude Carriers) and ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carriers) class crude oil tankers. The Suez Canal Authority is continuing enhancement and enlargement projects on the canal, and extended the depth to 66 ft in 2010 to allow over 60 percent of all tankers to use the Canal.

Closure of the Suez Canal and the SUMED Pipeline would divert oil tankers around the southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, adding approximately 6,000 miles to transit, increasing both costs and shipping time. According to a report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA), shipping around Africa would add 15 days of transit to Europe and 8-10 days to the United States.

SUMED Pipeline

The 200-mile long SUMED Pipeline, or Suez-Mediterranean Pipeline provides an alternative to the Suez Canal for those cargos too large to transit the Canal (laden VLCC’s and larger). The pipeline has a capacity of 2.3 million bbl/d and flows north from Ain Sukhna, on the Red Sea coast to Sidi Kerir on the Mediterranean. The SUMED is owned by Arab Petroleum Pipeline Co., a joint venture between the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi’s

Crude Oil

The majority of crude oil flows transiting the Canal travel northbound, towards markets in the Mediterranean and North America. Northbound canal flows averaged approximately 428,000 bbl/d in 2010. The SUMED pipeline accounted for 1.15 million bbl/d of crude oil flows along the route over the same period. Combined, these two transit points were responsible for over 1.5 million bbl/d of crude oil flows into the Mediterranean, with an additional 307,000 bbl/d travelling southbound through the Canal. Northbound crude transit represented a decline from 2008 when 940,000 bbl/d of oil transited northbound through the Canal and an additional 2.1 million travelled through the SUMED to the Mediterranean.

Total Oil and Products

Total oil flows from the Suez Canal declined from 2008 levels of over 2.4 million bbl/d in 2008 to just under 2 million bbl/d on average in 2010. Flows through the SUMED experienced a much steeper drop from approximately 2.1 million bbl/d to 1.1 million bbl/d over the same period. The year-on-year difference reflects the collapse in world oil market demand that began in the fourth quarter of 2008 which was then followed by OPEC production cuts (primarily from the Persian Gulf) causing a sharp fall in regional oil trade starting in January 2009. Drops in transit also illustrate the changing dynamics of international oil markets where Asian demand is increasing at a higher rate than European and American markets, while West African crude production is meeting a greater share of the latter’s demand. At the same time, piracy and security concerns around the Horn of Africa have led some exporters to travel the extra distance around South Africa to reach western markets.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

Unlike oil, LNG transit through the Suez Canal has been on the rise since 2008, with the number of tankers increasing from approximately 430 to 760, and volumes of LNG traveling northbound (laden tankers) increasing more than four-fold. Southbound LNG transit originates in Algeria and Egypt, destined for Asian markets while northbound transit is mostly from Qatar and Oman, destined for European and North American markets. The rapid growth in LNG flows over the period represents the startup of five LNG trains in Qatar in 2009-2010. The only alternate route for LNG tankers would be around Africa as there is no pipeline infrastructure to offset any Suez Canal disruptions. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Italy received more than half of their total LNG imports via the Suez Canal in 2009 while over 90 percent of Belgium’s LNG imports transited through the canal.

Source: EIA


The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.