CAIRO, July 17 (Reuters) - Three recently discovered major gas fields are expected to raise Egypt's natural gas output by 50 percent in 2018 and 100 percent in 2020, the petroleum ministry said.
"The fields of Zohr, North Alexandria and Nooros are among the most important projects that will increase natural gas production ... and will contribute to (Egypt’s) natural gas self-sufficiency by the end of 2018," Petroleum Minister Tarek El Molla said in a statement, which set out the production forecasts.
Egypt's natural gas production rose to about 5.1 billion cubic feet per day in 2017 from 4.4 billion cubic feet in 2016 with the start of production from the first phase of BP's North Alexandria project.
Egypt has been seeking to speed up gas production from recently discovered fields, with an eye to halting imports by 2019. Once an energy exporter, it has become an importer after domestic output failed to keep pace with rising demand.
The three large projects, which include the mammoth Zohr Mediterranean gas field discovered by Italy's Eni last year, are expected to collectively bring 4.6 bln cubic feet of gas per day online by the start of 2019.
Eni began production at Nooros, its Nile Delta offshore field, in September 2015.
Egypt is in talks with its liquefied natural gas (LNG) suppliers to defer contracted shipments this year and aims to cut back on purchases in 2018, as surging domestic gas production pushes back demand for costly foreign imports. (Reporting by Ehab Farouk; Writing by Amina Ismail; editing by Patrick Markey and Adrian Croft)