AMMAN (AFP) – Energy giant BP signed a deal on Sunday with Jordan to explore for natural gas reserves in the Risheh field near the border with Iraq in an investment that could reach billions of dollars.

Under the agreement, BP plans to invest 237 million dollars to explore the Risheh field, which currently produces 21 million cubic feet a day, Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Khaldun Qteishat told reporters after the signing.

"This first phase is expected to take between three and four years," he said.

"If the firm discovers large reserves, it would spend eight to 10 billion dollars in the second phase to develop Risheh to produce between 300 million cubic feet and one billion cubic feet a day."

Qteishat added that "such amounts would be enough to meet Jordan's needs."

"We would study the possibility of exporting gas in the future," he said.

Energy-poor Jordan discovered Risheh in the 1980s, and the field now covers an area of around seven square kilometres (2.7 square miles).

The tiny desert kingdom, which imports 95 percent of its energy needs, has also announced plans for a nuclear power programme to generate electricity and desalinate water.