State-owned Qatar Petroleum said Wednesday that it has spud the first of 80 wells as part of its ambitious North Field East (NFE) Project aimed at significantly expanding its liquefied natural gas (LNG) output in the coming years.

The first well was spud on March 29 by an offshore jack-up rig operated by GulfDrill, a joint venture formed last year between Gulf Drilling International and Seadrill Ltd. to conduct drilling on behalf of Qatar Petroleum.

Qatar Petroleum has awarded a number of contracts for jack-up drilling rigs to be utilized for the drilling of 80 development wells for the NFE. The installation of the first four offshore jackets in Qatari waters is underway and is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

Qatar already is the world’s largest LNG producer, but the first phase of the NFE project would increase the country’s output from 77 million tons per year (mty) to 110 mty. The expansion was announced in 2018 and later grew in scope after successful appraisal efforts determined that productive layers of the North Field extend into Qatari land in Ras Laffan.

Ultimately, Qatar is aiming to boost LNG output by 64% from current levels to 126 mty, which also would require it to construct six “mega trains” with a liquefaction capacity of 8 mty each.

First production from some of the new trains was slated to begin in 2024, but Reuters reported earlier this month that the timeline has been pushed back to 2025 due to a delay in contractor bidding caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The company’s announcement also is an indication that it does not plan to downsize the NFE project due to the global LNG supply glut that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. CEO Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi said the start of drilling demonstrates that the “mega project” remains a top priority for the company.

The North Field extends from Qatar’s northern coastal onshore areas to points offshore its northeast peninsula. Qatar Petroleum said late last year that its appraisal efforts showed confirmed gas reserves in the field exceed 1,760 Tcf, in addition to more than 70 billion bbl of condensates and “massive quantities” of liquefied petroleum gas, ethane and helium.

Qatar also is expanding capacity outside of the country, including adding 16 million metric tons/year from the Golden Pass LNG export project with long-term strategic partner ExxonMobil. To be built in Sabine Pass, TX, the project was sanctioned in February 2019.