Cairo has signed three oil and gas exploration agreements for 16 new fields in the country’s Western Desert area.

The three deals are worth a total of about $84m, according to a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Petroleum & Mineral Resources.

The first deal is with UK/Dutch Shell, which will invest $35.5m on explorations in the northern Oum Baraka area in the Western Desert. The second and third deals will see the US-based Apex Oil Company, which will be operating in Egypt for the first time, invest $26.5m and $19.4m on the Southeast Maliha and Badr el-Din areas.

In March 2015, the petroleum ministry said its strategy to revitalise the energy sector would require $70bn of investment up to 2022, including $25bn in new funding. The biggest area of investment identified by the ministry is gas development, which it estimates requires some $21.5bn of spending, just under a third of the total.

The authorities have held six international oil and gas licencing rounds since 2013, and two more are planned this year for nine blocks.

On 8 June, Egypt said it had paid off $2.2bn in arrears to foreign oil firms in the previous three weeks, leaving $2.3bn still to be repaid, the lowest level in many years.