Italian energy group Eni has discovered what it claims is the largest known gas field in the Mediterranean area off the coast of Egypt. The Zohr field covers an area of approximately 60 square miles and could well contain as much as 30 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The firm released the following statement, “Zohr is the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and in the Mediterranean Sea and could become one of the world’s largest natural-gas finds.” Eni has full concession rights to the field, a deposit which could, the firm predicts, meet Egypt’s gas needs for decades to come. “This historic discovery will be able to transform the energy scenario of Egypt,” said Claudio Descalzi, chief executive of Eni.

The latest find follows a number of discoveries in the Mediterranean in recent years, however the Zohr field is by far the largest. The finds may lead to the creation of new markets to supply Europe, lessening the continent’s reliance upon Russia, and will serve to reduce the strain placed on Egypt, a country which faces regular power cuts and civil unrest due to oil and gas shortages.

Eni, the largest foreign oil and gas producer in Africa, is 30 per cent state-owned and is set to use existing infrastructure to speed up development of the site. The company has interests in sites off the coast of Libya and Mozambique. This summer the firm signed a deal with Egypt worth 2 billion USD to explore the Sinai, the Gulf of Suez, the Nile Delta and the Mediterranean off the country’s coast.

Egypt was previously a gas exporting nation, but has become a net energy importer in recent years. Egyptian industry’s consumption of gas is rationed by the government, severely damaging the economy in the process.

The development could well prove a threat to Israeli plans to export gas following a discovery of a large field off the country’s coast, much of which lies in waters disputed with Lebanon. Experts have also warned that the discovery could well depress gas prices throughout the region. While the situation is uncertain, Eni’s huge discovery is certainly a boon given the fluctuating price of oil at present.