DAMIETTA, Egypt, May 22 (Reuters) - Egypt will increase its natural gas production to between 5.5 and 6 billion cubic feet per day by the end of 2019, Oil Minister Tarek El Molla said on Sunday, up from the current 3.9 bln cubic ft per day.
Once an energy exporter, Egypt has turned into a net importer because of declining oil and gas production and increasing consumption. It is trying to speed up production at recent discoveries to fill its energy gap as soon as possible.
Egypt currently has 12 natural gas field development projects underway worth a total of $33 billion in investment, Molla said, speaking at the inauguration of a fertilizer plant in the port city of Damietta.
The three largest projects, which include the mammoth Mediterranean gas field Zohr discovered by Italy's Eni last year, are expected to collectively bring 4.6 bln cubic ft of gas per day online by the start of 2019, said Molla.
Recent discoveries and increased production may help the country save precious hard currency as it deals with an acute dollar shortage.
Egypt now spends $795 million per month on imports to meet its energy needs, about $250-$300 million of which is dedicated to natural gas, he said.
Egypt is also looking to rent its third floating and storage regasification unit (FSRU) by the second quarter of 2017, he added.
The FSRUs let the energy-starved country import liquefied natural gas (LNG) and convert it to natural gas to feed its power grid, which in past years has been affected by blackouts during peak months of consumption during the summer.
"With the arrival of the third regasification unit, Egypt's total imports of natural gas will reach 2 bln cubic feet per day," said Molla.
Egypt currently imports around 1-1.1 bln cubic ft per day of LNG.
(Reporting by Abdel Rahman Adel; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Ros Russell)
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