(Adds minister comments, context)
CAIRO, May 10 (Reuters) - Production at BP's North Alexandria gas fields is expected to raise Egypt's natural gas output to 5.1 billion cubic feet per day from about 4.45 billion currently, Oil Minister Tarek El Molla said on Wednesday.
Egypt has been looking 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 in recent years.
The Taurus and Libra fields are currently producing 700 million standard cubic feet of gas a day for the Egyptian national gas grid, BP said in a statement following their official inauguration on Wednesday.
The fields are part of BP's West Nile Delta development, which includes five offshore gas fields that are planned to have a combined production of up to almost 1.5 billion cubic feet a day (bcf/d) in 2019.
Speaking later to private television channel CBC, Molla said he expects the first year of production at the fields to save Egypt about $1 billion that would otherwise have been spent on costly imports and about $1.8 billion per year after the fields are further developed. (Reporting by Abdel Rahman Adel and Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by David Goodman and Catherine Evans)