By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – The energy sector took a hit on Saturday morning after an explosion in the Sinai Peninsula damaged a strategic natural gas line to the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources confirmed that an explosion targeting gas lines in Al Arish resulted in a complete suspension in the supply of natural gas from Egypt, which the Kingdom relies on for 80 per cent of its electricity generation needs.

Ministry Secretary General Farouq Hiyari said officials have been in contact with Egyptian authorities and have switched power generation stations to diesel and heavy oil to continue electricity generation.

“We have sufficient reserves of diesel and heavy oil for 30 days,” Hiyari told The Jordan Times over the phone yesterday.

Under a deal inked in 2004, Egypt provides some 2.4 billion cubic metres of natural gas at preferential prices a year for electricity generation.

According to Reuters, Egyptian state media said that the gas line to Jordan was targeted by “extremist” groups who, were believed to have intended to damage the Arish-Ashkelon line which supplies natural gas to Israel.

As a precaution, Egyptian authorities have closed the natural gas source until repairs on the line are completed, Reuters reported, which Jordanian energy officials expect may take up to “over a week”.

In the meantime, the National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) is working to ensure that electricity supply across the country will not be disrupted by the cut in natural gas supplies.

“We have converted all our power plants to heavy fuel oil and diesel and all plants are in operation,” NEPCO Director Ghaleb Maabreh told The Jordan Times.

“We are on the safe side in sources of fuel and availability of power,” he said, stressing that there will be “no power cuts” as long as reserves last.

According to NEPCO, the Kingdom’s power plants have two weeks worth of diesel and over one month worth of heavy fuel in strategic reserves.

Maabreh noted that the switch to heavy oil and diesel for electricity generation will be “more expensive”, but declined to estimate the amount the disruption will cost the Kingdom, adding that the full financial impact will “be clearer” once individual power plants report later in the week.

“Right now our first priority is to have a secure supply of power rather than to think of costs,” he said.

When natural gas supplies from Egypt dropped to 70 per cent of their normal levels last summer, the Kingdom witnessed various brown-outs and blackouts affecting the water distribution.

Based on the impact of the previous drop in supply, it is believed that the current disruption will cost the Kingdom “millions” each day.

In addition to receiving natural gas, Jordan and Egypt share electricity via a500-megawatt capacity cable running beneath the Red Sea, a supply which extends to Syria and Lebanon. According to NEPCO, this cable has not been affected.

When the Kingdom was impacted by a reduction in gas supply last summer, the ministry launched efforts to explore other potential source markets for natural gas, namely Iraq and Qatar.

With no active government, it is currently unclear whether the recent disruption will accelerate efforts to secure alternative sources of natural gas.