A new phase of gas geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean

This week Turkey initiated its first exploration drilling for oil & gas offshore the island of Cyprus. Furthermore, today Turkey announced it would send an additional second drilling vessel to the region in the name of the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, an internationally unrecognized entity which governs Northern Cyprus as a Turkish protectorate. The background - discovery of a third significant gas resource in the economic zone south of Cyprus by the Republic of Cyprus (a.k.a. Greek Cyprus or Southern Cyprus).

This week Turkey initiated its first exploration drilling for oil & gas offshore the island of Cyprus. Furthermore, today Turkey announced it would send an additional second drilling vessel to the region in the name of the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, an internationally unrecognized entity which governs Northern Cyprus as a Turkish protectorate. The background - discovery of a third significant gas resource in the economic zone south of Cyprus by the Republic of Cyprus (a.k.a. Greek Cyprus or Southern Cyprus).

The location of the Turkish drilling in Cypriot economic zone is marked (edited map by NordNordWest).

The Turkish drilling is hence taking place in the economic zone around the Cyprus island, while there is a principal disagreement between the Turkish version of the economic zone delineation around the island and the version of the Republic of Cyprus. United States, European Union and Egypt have all criticized the Turkish action, due to the certain drilling location within Cypriot economic waters, whereas there is no recognition to statehood of Northern Cyprus to claim any offshore areas around the island. The government of the Republic of Cyprus also issued a formal complaint to the United Nations, requesting an immediate delineation of Cypriot economic zone - borders which are typically set up by bilateral agreements in line with the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In the meanwhile the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus, which became a natural gas resource-owning state following three recent discoveries of offshore hydrocarbon fields cannot find a solution for developing its reserves. The industry of the Cyprus island is not sufficient to economically justify the development of the discovered reserves, while the export options remain elusive. Egypt is rapidly ramping up its own gas production and hence is unlikely to import natural gas from abroad due to limitation of its gas liquefaction facilities. The grandiose Cypriot plan for a local gas liquefaction facility is too heavy for the local economy of the island - 10 billion US Dollars and the ambitious Eastmed gas pipeline to mainland Europe is at this point more a declarative project than a real one also requiring mandatory Israeli participation and a significant price tag of 7 billion US dollars. There is also another option of a floating LNG facility with the development of this novel technology, but it's feasibility also depends on the volatile pricing of LNG.

Thus, Turkey seems to continue playing the gas game in the Eastern Mediterranean, while worsening the multi-faceted conflicts with their neighbours in the region - versus the US-aligned Sunni axis of Saudi Arabia & Egypt, the newly formed Israeli-Cypriot-Greek alliance and of course cold relations of Turkey versus Iran and versus Russia. The only true ally of Turkey in the Middle East is Qatar, but Turkey is also aligned with a number of Turkish-aligned protectorates such as North Cyprus, North Syria and to some degree the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The desperate Turkish attempt to reach the vast reserves of oil & gas in the Eastern Mediterranean might flare-up the Cyprus dispute after many decades of relative quiet and this probably puts a final blow to the Cyprus peace process.