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Turkey’s Energy Agenda Puts The Entire Region At Risk

The East Mediterranean has become a highly contested region due to the discovery of major hydrocarbon reserves which has triggered a scramble for energy wealth. According to the United States Geological Survey, the Levant basin contains 3.6 trillion cubic meters and the Nile delta basin 6.3 trillion cubic meters of gas. While countries such as Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt have struck gold, has failed to discover significant deposits. Ankara, however, has set its eyes on a pipeline project to connect its mainland with occupied northern Cyprus which could potentially transform the geopolitical landscape.

The energy wealth of the Mediterranean has brought Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Egypt closer to each other. Tel Aviv has already struck a deal with Cairo to export natural gas to the latter’s liquefaction plant at Idku for export purposes while Nicosia is discussing the same option. Next to this, Cyprus, Greece, and Israel signed a three-way agreement on January 2nd in Athens to build the subsea EastMed pipeline.

Although a diplomatic solution would be in the interest of all involv ed parties, Turkey’s hostile attitude towards virtually all littoral states in the Eastern Mediterranean rules out cooperation. Ankara has ordered exploration vessels in Cypriot waters’ and struck an agreement with Libya concerning the delimitation of the seabed without considering Crete. According to experts, these actions represent the Turkish desire to exert control in the region. Despite the counterproductive policies, Ankara’s intention for the construction of a pipeline of its own is intended to offer an alternative for regional cooperation on energy infrastructure. Related: The Biggest Wild Card In 2020 Oil Markets

Turkey’s aspiration to become an energy hub is not a secret. The country already boasts that it is a conduit for natural gas from the north and east. It would like to add the “south” to its list of accomplishments. Unfortunately, the fraught relations with gas-rich countries in the Eastern Mediterranean rule out a deal. Ankara, therefore, has decided to go its way and constructing an alternative.

Even though exploration vessels haven't found natural gas resources in the internationally recognized waters of Turkey, Ankara wishes to connect the mainland with the North of Cyprus. The proposed pipeline’s length is 80 kilometers and it should start pumping gas by 2025. The project’s main goal is to lower the northern inhabitants’ 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 maintains that the new-found energy wealth of the internationally recognized Cypriot republic should be shared with the Turkish inhabitants to the north. According to experts the gas fields of the island’s coast contain approximately 227 bcm which could be worth $44.8 billion or €40 billion.

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. EastMed’s price tag is approximately €6 to €7 billion and requires state of the art technology for activities to commence at 2,000 meters depth. Turkey’s pipeline, in contrast, is much shorter and could connect to largely existing infrastructure on the mainland. Related: Iran's Retaliation Could Cause A Middle East Oil Shock

Despite the apparent advantages, Turkey’s plans have a low chance of success due to the ‘elephant in the room’ which is the country itself. Ankara’s adventurism and aggressive foreign policy have become a liability for investors who need to reckon with the risks before approving multi-billion dollar investments.

Although a land-based pipeline is significantly cheaper than a technically challenging subsea version, the latter has the advantage that it directly connects producers with consumers. This means that the risk of supply disruptions is significantly lower compared to a situation where a third party has control over a section of the pipeline.

The disagreements between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas exports have too often disrupted the flow of energy to European customers. Energy security is not only improved by diversifying suppliers but also increasing alternatives for transportation. Therefore, Turkey’s wish to become a conduit for Mediterranean gas seems unrealistic at the moment.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on January 06 2020 said:
    Turkey has three main objectives in the energy scene of the Eastern Mediterranean. The first is to consolidate its position as the energy hub of the European Union (EU) bolstered by the Turk Stream gas pipeline which will bring Russian gas supplies once it becomes operational very soon to Turkey and the EU under the Black Sea and also with 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.

    Though Turkey and Egypt find themselves on opposing sides politically over the growing tension in the Eastern Mediterranean, they both oppose the proposed EastMed pipeline.

    Turkey opposes it because it will compete with the Turk Stream gas pipeline and also with the SGC. Egypt, on the other hand, would not welcome it since it hopes to receive both Israeli and Cypriot gas at its two LNG terminals in Damietta and Idku for conversion to LNG and re-exporting along with Egypt’s own LNG to the Asia-Pacific region.

    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 are to judge the viability of the EastMed on the current situation, there is only Calypso and Israel to fill the pipeline. Israel has already signed a deal worth $15 bn of 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 could 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 to look at the recent gas agreement signed between Russia and Ukraine. 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
  • Sean Doherty on January 07 2020 said:
    Turkey, is currently the loudest trouble maker in the world.
    It is the like of the actors that want everything for themselves.
    It has systematically abuse the international law, bullying it's neighborhood and it should be stopped before it is too late.
    Its geographic position maybe useful for the West and the NATO but it should be reminded that none is irreplaceable.

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