Egypt plans to finalise 20 new oil and gas exploration concession and modification agreements by the end of the year, Minister of Petroleum Sherif Ismail announced on Tuesday.
"We have already signed 36 new concession agreements and modifications. We have 20 more in the pipeline...which we will be presenting to the cabinet to sign before the end of this year," said Ismail in a panel attended by a US business mission in Cairo.
Following the 2011 uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was unable to pay its mounting debts to foreign oil and gas companies.
As a result, "there have been no new concessions in the period from 2010 to 2013, which resulted in decreasing exploration areas to only 27 blocks during 2013, down from 53 in 2010," he said.
Total debt to foreign oil companies stood at $4.9 billion in October, after the government paid foreign firms $1.5 billion.
Payments of arrears are encouraging more investment in exploration, said Ismail, with an estimated $23 billion in new investments, around $13 billion of which are ongoing and $10 billion in investments planned.
The country has also been suffering from a mounting energy crisis as domestic production of natural gas, predominantly used in power stations, has failed to keep up with rising consumption.
Egypt will begin importing liquefied natural gas in the first quarter of 2015, around March, said Ismail. Earlier this month the country signed a deal with Norwegian Hoegh LNG for a floating storage and re-gasification unit (FSRU) to allow such imports.
According to Ismail, the sector's reform will involve working on the demand side in addition to the supply side. He said that the country's growing fuel subsidy bill had diverted resources from expansion projects.
In July the government cut fuel subsidies, which amounted to LE126 billion in the 2013/14 fiscal year, by some LE45 billion in the new budget.
The petroleum sector strategy aims to contribute five percent to the country's GDP in ten years, said Ismail.
Egypt's economy grew a mere 2.2 percent in the fiscal year ending 30 June 2014, but the government has set a target of 6 percent growth rate in FY 2018/19.