By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – Jordan’s energy sector received a boost on Friday after Egypt began preliminary pumping of natural gas to the Kingdom.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Qutaiba Abu Qura announced that Egypt has resumed gas supplies to Jordan, which has been without its main energy source since an explosion in the Sinai Peninsula severed supplies on November 10.

Abu Qura stressed that Egypt is currently providing Jordan with “experimental” volumes, adding that officials expect gas supplies to resume to pre-attack levels, some 150 million cubic feet per day, by the end of this week.

Industry experts believe the move will ease pressure on the Kingdom’s power plants, which have been running on diesel and heavy fuel oil reserves – at a cost of some JD3 million per day – since the attack.

GASCO, the Egyptian firm that oversees the 400-kilometre pipeline which serves both Jordan and Israel, confirmed that a technical team has completed repairs on the line and is conducting “experimental” pumping to the Kingdom.

According to reports by the Egyptian press, authorities believe this month’s attack – the seventh act of sabotage on the Arab Gas Pipeline this year – was carried out by a jihadist group with alleged ties to Al Qaeda aiming to halt gas supplies to Israel.

Egyptian energy officials claim that due to increased security along the pipeline, coupled with the recent arrests of over one dozen suspects, gas supplies to Jordan will be more secure in the future.

Under an amended gas agreement between Jordan and Egypt, which has yet to be ratified by Cairo, Egypt is to raise gas supplies to 220 million cubic feet by early next year.

As per the amended gas deal, which is expected to raise gas prices from less than $2 to $6 per 1,000 cubic feet, Egypt is to compensate Jordan with additional gas quantities should any disruption in supplies occur.

This month’s attack spurred energy officials in Amman to accelerate efforts to secure alternatives to Egyptian gas, which Jordan relies upon for 88 per cent of its electricity generation needs.

Authorities are considering several options, including the import of natural gas from Iraq and liquid gas from the Arab Gulf countries, with plans in place to construct a liquid gas terminal in the Red Sea Port of Aqaba by 2013.

Despite the renewed push for alternative energy sources, energy officials say it will take over two years for any agreement to come into effect due to infrastructure requirements.

Multiple cuts in Egyptian gas supplies have ballooned Jordan’s budget deficit and are expected to push the national energy bill to record levels, over JD4 billion.

Jordan currently imports 98 per cent of its energy needs at a cost of 23 per cent of its gross domestic product.