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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Tension Between Cyprus, Turkey Flares Up On “Illegal” Gas Exploration

Turkey exploration

Tensions between Turkey and Cyprus that have been simmering for decades flared up again this month after Cyprus called Turkey a “pirate state” following the Turkish President’s renewed vow to start drilling for natural gas off the coast of the disputed island.

"Turkey is turning into a pirate state in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey insists on going down the path of international illegality," a statement by the Cypriot president issued Sunday said, as quoted by AFP.

Turkey’s president, Recept Tayyip Erdogan last year angered Cyprus when he staked a claim to some of the natural gas wealth that is being discovered in the waters around the island.

Turkey will continue exploring for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean waters around disputed Cyprus, and “No project can be realised if Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are not involved,” Erdogan said in August.

Since then, Ankara has been moving forward with its drilling plans despite criticism from not just Cyprus but also Greece and the European Union. Just this week the EU warned Turkey to reconsider its drilling plans after Erdogan said drilling would start “as soon as possible.” The EU also called these exploration plans illegal.

But why is Erdogan so intent on drilling for gas offshore Cyprus, where Turkey controls about a third of the territory after two consecutive invasions in 1974? Because Cyprus is part of the new hot spot in natural gas: the Eastern Mediterranean.

The area began attracting attention after a couple of major finds off the coast of Israel made headlines and after Italy’s Eni discovered the Zohr gas field offshore Egypt. Two discoveries were made offshore Cyprus as well.

One is the Aphrodite field, just 30 km from the giant Leviathan gas field in Israeli waters. The field is part of Block 12, which is estimated to contain some 3.6-6 trillion cu ft of natural gas. The other is  Glaucus-1, which was made by Exxon and Qatar Petroleum earlier this year and is ranked the third-largest gas discovery off the Cypriot coast. It contains an estimated 682 million barrels of oil equivalent, of which about 90 percent is natural gas.

A large consumer of natural gas, Turkey is understandably interested in boosting its supplies from its own production rather than imports. At the moment, Turkey is almost entirely dependent on gas imports, most of which come from Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan, although the country also buys LNG from a dozen exporters. Last year’s consumption is seen at some 44-44.5 billion cu m, down on 2018 because of unusually warm weather but still a consumption rate sizeable enough to prompt efforts to secure its own supply.

Download our free ''A New War In The Middle East'' report and read about the top risks for oil markets in 2020

But for Turkey it’s not only a question of securing natural gas supply. The access to natural gas goes hand in hand with Ankara’s geopolitical expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Earlier this month, President Erdogan announced a cooperation deal with the Libyan government that will see the opening of a maritime corridor between the two countries across the Eastern Mediterranean. The deal also included stipulations about joint oil and gas exploration. The EU and Cyprus slammed the deal.

Turkey’s expansion in the region has also got on Israel’s nerves. Earlier this month, Israel, Cyprus, and Greece signed a deal that would see natural gas from the Israeli offshore deposits flow to Europe. The EastMed pipeline will boost Israel’s role as energy supplier to Europe but also enhance the importance of Greece and Cyprus as “key links in Europe’s energy supply chain,” AFP and the Times of Israel reported at the time.


This is at odds with Turkey’s expansionist policies and the traditional, historically determined mutual hostility between Ankara, Athens, and Nicosia. Taken together, Erdogan’s vision of a new Ottoman empire and the need to secure the long-term supply of natural gas will likely continue to keep tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean high despite the EU’s threats of more sanctions against Turkey.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on January 22 2020 said:
    Turkey has three main objectives in the energy scene in the EU and the Eastern Mediterranean.

    The first is to establish itself as the uncontested energy hub for the European Union (EU). This has been consolidated by the inauguration on the 8th of January this year of the Turk Stream gas pipeline which will bring Russian gas supplies under the Black Sea to Turkey and markets in southeastern and the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) bringing Caspian gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey and then to the EU via the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).

    The second objective is to ensure that the Turkish Cypriots get a fair share from natural gas discoveries offshore Cyprus estimated by some accounts to be worth $44.8 bn.

    The third objective is to prevent the construction of EastMed gas pipeline by Israel, Greece and Cyprus to bring Israeli and Cypriot natural gas under the Mediterranean to the EU via the Greek mainland.

    Turkey opposes it because it will compete with the Turk Stream and also with the SGC.
    However, it seems that the EastMed estimated to stretch over a distance of 1900 km and costing an estimated $7 bn may never see the light of day. Cyprus has yet to discover any sizeable gas fields like Egypt’s Zohr (30 tcf) and Israel’s Leviathan (18.9 tcf) other than the two relatively small gas fields: the 6-8 tcf Calypso, the 4.5 tcf Aphrodite and the recently ExxonMobil-discovered Glaucus-1 (5-8 tcf).

    If we judge the viability of the EastMed by the current situation, there is only Calypso and Israel to fill the pipeline. Israel has already signed a deal for Israeli gas exports to be sent to Egypt for conversion to LNG and re-exporting. Cyprus on its own couldn’t muster enough gas to fill the EastMed annual throughput capacity of 20 billion cubic metres (bcm). Moreover, Turkey will never allow the Greek Cypriots to produce more gas let alone export it without securing a share for the Turkish Cypriots.

    And to confirm its solid opposition to the EastMed, Turkey is planning to build its own undersea gas pipeline connecting its mainland with Northern Cyprus. The proposed pipeline’s length is 80 kilometers and it should start pumping gas by 2025. Its main goal is to lower the Turkish Cypriots’ energy bill by exporting gas from north to south, but the pipeline’s reverse-flow feature also allows the export of natural gas to the mainland.

    Turkey’s dual-use pipeline could compete with the EastMed pipeline as it would connect the Eastern Mediterranean with customers in Europe. Its main advantage is the relatively low construction costs. It is much shorter than EastMed and could connect to largely existing infrastructure on the mainland.

    Still, the Eastern Mediterranean gas producers will have to eventually reach an accommodation with Turkey if they want a peaceful and lucrative development of their gas riches.

    While this possibility seems currently remote, one has only to look at the recent gas agreement signed between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow and Kiev argued in court for nearly five years over mutual accusations of violating a 2009 gas deal and almost came to blows. Yet, Russia and Ukraine successfully signed a new five-year deal ending a half-decade gas dispute on 31 December 2019.The signing of the deal marked a major breakthrough in Russia-Ukraine relations and has eased tensions between them.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Laodikia Goulielmos on January 22 2020 said:
    Turkey has illegally dominated the half of the Cyprus Island , cutting a European capital , Nicosia, in TWO parts.
    The so called "Turkish" minority of Cyprus is a joke.
    The Island had an almost 90% Greek speaking population and after tge Turkish invasion , Turkey has violently banned every Greek-Cypriot and brought Turkish people who had no relationship with Cyprus in order to populate the North part of Cyprus.

    Turkey is illegally entering the airspace of Greece everyday with fighting airplanes.
    The violent behaviour of Turkey is legendary:
    In Istanbul there were more than half million Greeks before 1922. Today there are just 5000 people.

    At the same time the Islamic Turkish speaking greek citizens of the Greek part of Thrace have been overdoubled.
    Greece is a peaceful country that never harms anyone while Turkey has historically done atrocities to all the minorities in her ground (her ground...? Well this is another story)

    Turkey has committed genocide to over 3 millions of Armenians , 1 million Greeks from Smyrna and Pontos , and over 750000 Assyrians

    Turkey is illegally cooperating with terrorists in Syria , torturing hundreds of Kurds everyday. The Kurds that have died by the Turkish activity are hundreds of thousands in history.

    With every chance, Turkey is threatening that she will spread terrorists/immigrants to all European Union (something that already do , as more than 800 people are entering everyday Greece's islands from Turkey, with slave drivers who are of course known to the military/police centric Turkish country but they intentionally let them ).
    Terrorists / immigrants that Turkey itself has mainly created by taking part to Syria's war and by pressing the Kurds and other middle east nations by helping ISIS.

    Turkey has no idea about what democracy and justice is , even for its own ground: anyone who has different opinion with the government's one, is being imprisoned and tortured.
    During the last years dozens of thousands of university teachers, judges , military officers and employees in public places have been prisoned and have never seen the light of the sun again.

    Antigovernment Newspapers have been shut down and journalists have been jailed for the rest of their lives as traitors.

    Even famous Turkish athletes who expressed a different opinion have said that Turkish secret agents have tried to kill them and their family members have been imprisoned in their father land.

    We are speaking for a truly Pirate Country with a monstrous behaviour to its neighbors, with a dangerous leader who is trying to ban everyone else in his country except a wide public base of ignorants and fanatics who are ready to die for every militaristic dream that he has, like making an Islamic-Neoothomanic Empire again.

    When USA , France , UK , Italy and other countries are going.to understand what is going on and stop the craziness before it is too late ?

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