By Taylor Luck and Hani Hazaimeh

AMMAN – The government is expected to formalise a deal with Egypt within the next two weeks to secure an additional 900 million cubic metres of natural gas, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Khalid Irani said that during a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Hassan Younes in Cairo on Tuesday, Egypt verbally agreed to increase natural gas exports in Jordan to help lessen the burden on the country’s electricity grid.

According to Irani, when the two sides reached a deal to provide Jordan with 2.4 billion cubic metres of natural gas at preferential prices in 2004, an “agreement in principle” was made to eventually provide an additional 900 million cubic metres, which he said has yet to fully materialise.

“We used to receive part of that. Now we want to commercialise the agreement to ensure that we don’t have any cuts,” Irani told The Jordan Times over the phone yesterday, expressing hope that a formal commercial agreement will be signed within the next two weeks.

He noted that Egypt has been facing obstacles in terms of expansion and maintenance of its natural gas wells, resulting in slight fluctuations in the amount of natural gas Jordan receives.

Under the formal arrangement, Egypt would gradually increase natural gas exports to Jordan to reach a rate of 3.3 billion cubic metres annually by the first quarter of 2011. In the meantime, Egyptian authorities pledged to maintain the 2.4 billion cubic metres as outlined in the agreement, the minister indicated.

At a press conference yesterday, Irani noted that the Kingdom’s power grid registered a record load on Sunday and Monday, reaching 2,475 megawatts (MW).

At a joint press conference with Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications and Government Spokesperson Nabil Sharif and Minister of Municipal Affairs Ali Ghezawi, Irani said power cuts will be addressed within the next few days when the 100MW Samra power plant becomes operational.

He pointed out that the Kingdom’s network will receive an additional 250MW when the Qatraneh power plant comes on-line later this year.

The minister added that not all blackouts that have occurred in the Kingdom over the past few days were due to electricity overloads, noting that some were related to technical difficulties faced by service providers.

Currently, 32 per cent of the Kingdom’s energy needs are met by imported natural gas.