Italy's Eni has discovered gas reserves of up to 30 trillion cubic feet in the Zohr prospect in Egypt's Mediterranean, making it the biggest gas discovery ever in the country, the Egyptian petroleum ministry said on Sunday.
"We are talking about a discovery that provides a third of Egypt's [natural gas] reserves which stands at 65 trillion cubic feet," Hamdy Abdel-Aziz, the petroleum ministry spokesman told Ahram Online.
The newly-discovered well 'Zohr' holds a potential 30 trillion cubic feet of lean gas in place (5.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent in place) covering an area of about 100 square kilometres, according to a statement by Eni.
"Zohr is the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and in the Mediterranean Sea and could become one of the world’s largest natural-gas finds," Eni said in a statement.
The discovery was made in the Shorouk block that was awarded to Eni in January 2014 following an international bid, Eni said.
The well 'Zohr' is located in the economic waters of Egypt’s Mediterranean, at the depth of 4,757 feet in the sea (1,450 metres), Eni added.
Production of the new discovery should commence within 30-36 months, according to Abdel-Aziz.
He added that the government expects to reach "self-sufficiency" within five years with the help of Eni's discovery, in addition to more expected findings.
Egypt has turned into a net importer of natural gas from a net exporter in the past few years on the back of rising consumption and falling productions.
The country's energy sector, already experiencing an energy crunch since the summer of 2008, took a blow following the 2011 uprising as arrears to foreign oil firms accumulated and production slowed.
The new discovery means that Egypt would not need to import gas "for decades", Caudio Descalzi, CEO of ENI, told the Financial Times.
"Egypt can rely on this discovery for the next decades. They have found a very important supply for the future," he said, adding that the field could hold up to 40 trillion cubic feet of gas and oil.
Eni, which is state-owned, has been operating in Egypt through its subsidiary IEOC Production B.V. since 1954 with a current daily production of 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent.
During Egypt's economic development conference in March the company signed heads of agreement with the Egyptian government worth $5 billion over a period of 4-5 years.
In July, Egypt and Eni signed an update to the head of agreement reached in March, following the discovery of gas reserves of up to 15 billion cubic metres in Egypt's Nile Delta region.
The country garnered some $40 billion in energy deals during the development conference held in March as part of the government's plans to boost an economy battered by more than four years of political upheaval.
Italy is one of Egypt's largest trading partners with $6 billion worth of mutual trading value in the 2013/2014 fiscal year, Egyptian central bank data shows.