The "largest ever" offshore natural gas field in the Mediterranean has been discovered inside Egypt's territorial waters, according to the Italian energy giant Eni.

The discovery, announced by the company on Sunday and confirmed by Egypt's oil ministry, could hold a potential 850 billion cubic metres of lean gas in an area of about 100 square kilometres.

The so-called Zohr project is "the largest gas discovery ever made in Egypt and in the Mediterranean Sea," Eni said, adding the find would meet Egypt's own natural gas demands for decades.

The "supergiant" field - potentially one of the world's largest natural gas finds - is located at a depth of 1,450 metres in the Shorouk Block, the company said.

Eni said Claudio Descalzi, the company's chief executive, had visited Cairo to discuss the discovery with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab.

"This historic discovery will be able to transform the energy scenario of Egypt," Descalzi said in the statement.

Eni said it will "immediately appraise the field with the aim of accelerating a fast-track development of the discovery," giving a timeframe of four years.

Israel 'sleep walking'

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday that the discovery could have implications for Israel, which has been looking to export its own deposits.

Partners Noble Energy and Delek Group, who in recent years discovered two sizeable fields in Israeli waters, have been negotiating long-term contracts to sell gas to customers in Egypt, but the deals have been held up by regulatory uncertainty in Israel.

Steinitz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been struggling to get approval of an agreement they reached with Noble and Delek that would help speed up development of most of the country's offshore reserves.

"The giant gas field discovery in Egypt is a painful reminder that while Israel has been 'sleep walking' and delaying the final approval of the gas outline and holding up further exploration, the world is changing in front of our eyes, including the implications on export possibilities," Steinitz said in a statement.

Source: Agencies