Turkey resumes gas exploration in eastern Mediterranean

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

A Turkish ship sets out to drill for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is a move that risks increasing tensions in the region.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan poses with Turkey’s new drill ship Abdulhamid Khan in the Mediterranean port of Tusk in Turkey’s Mersin province [Presidential Press Office/Reuters]
Federica Marci
Released on August 9, 2022
9 August 2022
Nearly two years after Turkey stopped its offshore exploration for gas in the disputed waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, a Turkish drill ship set out from the port of Mersin to search for gas in the region.

Abdulhamid Han’s drill ship set off on Tuesday with the grace of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan said the ship would operate in the country’s sovereign territory, 55 kilometers (34.2 miles) off the Turkish coast.

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“The research and drilling activities we carry out in the Mediterranean are in our sovereign lands, in the rice field.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine ignited a global energy crisis that forced importers to scramble for alternative hydrocarbon sources, the Eastern Mediterranean, with significant natural gas potential, has become a regional and wider region and could be a flashpoint for serious conflicts.

Energy Minister Fatih Dönmes announced on July 26 that the 238-metre (781-feet) last-generation drillship will leave Turkey in an uncertain place.

A day before Donmeler’s announcement, Cypriot Energy Minister Natasa Pirides said that Europe’s move to reduce Russia’s dependence on natural gas has increased the strategic importance of its exploration at sea.

“Europe is a good client for Cyprusgas,” Pirides told Bloomberg. “The EU has confirmed that natural gas will remain a bridge fuel until 2049 as part of the green transition so businesses can have peace of mind that long-term contracts can be secured.”

Since the gas field was discovered in the early 2000s, gas exploration work continues in the Cyprus offshore block. Preliminary results from the latest evaluation drilling by a consortium of French Total and Italian ENI confirmed this week that there is a large gas field in Block 6 of Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Pilides said that since Cyprus is a small country, it does not need a lot of natural gas for domestic use, leaving much for export.

However, Turkey, which paid a $40 billion natural gas import bill in 2019 and does not recognize Cyprus as a sovereign state with its own EEZ, is demanding “sovereignty” to drill for energy reserves from the fragmented island.

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“Turkey has long-term plans to become a regional energy hub and play an important role in the EU’s energy security,” Ummud Shokri, Turkey’s top foreign policy adviser, told Al Jazeera.

However, this ambition was repeatedly frustrated. In January 2019, the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, a multinational organization headquartered in Cairo, brought together governments, including Israeli and Palestinian authorities, but left Turkey out.

A year later, Cyprus, Greece and Israel agreed to build the 1,872-kilometer (1,163-mile) EastMed pipeline to transport Cypriot offshore gas to Greece and Italy. The fastest and cheapest route would have been to partially cross the waters claimed by Turkey, but the project avoided the waters.

“Turkey’s balance in the Eastern Mediterranean has been upset,” Shokri said.

Cyprus problem
Cyprus has long been in conflict between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. A military coup in Cyprus in 1974 aimed at uniting the island with mainland Greece led to a Turkish occupation of the northern third of the island and a permanent partition.

The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus does not recognize the internationally recognized right of the Republic of Cyprus (which has been an EU member since 2004) to grant search rights to foreign companies without their consent.

In May 2019, Ankara sent a Turkish oil and gas rig to Southern Cyprus waters as part of the Mavi Batang (Mavi Homeland) naval expansion doctrine.

In November 2019, one month after the Greek Cypriot authorities sent the Yavuz drill ship to the exploration block granted to ENI and Total, Turkey signed two Memorandums with Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) to create a Turkish North. Understanding to expand maritime borders with African country. The move paved the way for Greece to sign a similar agreement with Egypt in August 2020.

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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