Turkey rebukes Greek Cypriots in new gas exploration dispute

Turkish Foreign Ministry says unilateral action of Greek Cypriot administration over offshore hydrocarbon reserves infringes rights of Turkish Cypriots

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags wave next to a drilling tower 25 km (16 miles) from Famagusta April 26, 2012.

Turkey rebuked the Greek Cypriot administration on Friday over its announcing a tender for new hydrocarbon exploration offshore the long-divided Mediterranean Island.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Friday that the Greek Cypriot administration was challenging the right of Turks on the island at a time when the two sides are negotiating over a possible reunification.

“The Greek administration’s decision to open a tender on the one hand disregards the Turkish Cypriot side’s equal rights and interests on the island’s natural resources and on the other hand violates our country’s continental shelf rights in the region,” the statement said.

The ministry said that Turkey would not allow foreign companies to explore for hydrocarbons.

Turkey has consistently demanded that the Greek Cypriot side halt unilateral exploration for reserves off the island’s shores before a peace deal is agreed with Turkish Cypriots to end over four decades of division between the two communities.

Cyprus was divided in July 1974, when Turkey conducted a military intervention on the island to secure the island’s north as a safe haven for the Turkish Cypriot community in response to a coup carried out by the Greek junta.

Turkey, a guarantor of peace in Cyprus in accordance with agreements signed with Greece and Britain in 1960, has since then maintained a military presence in the island’s breakaway north, which declared independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983.

Past tensions

So far, only 4.54 trillion cubic feet of natural gas has been found offshore Cyprus by Texas-based energy giant Noble in Block 12’s Aphrodite field - well below some original predictions of up to 9 trillion cubic feet of reserves.

In December, France's Total and Italy's Eni along with its South Korean partner KOGAS extended their exploration licenses, which they received in a second round in 2012, by two years.

While Total has thus far struggled to find drilling targets in its designated blocks 10 and 11, Eni said to be assessing developments in light of its discovery of the nearby mega 30 trillion cubic feet-capacity Zohr gas reservoir, located in Egypt’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

It was initially hoped the Zohr gas field extended to Cyprus’ EEZ, but seismic research found a distance of six kilometres between Zohr and block 11.

Eni-KOGAS had originally began exploring in block 9 of the island’s EEZ in October 2014. The commencing of exploration in block 9 briefly led to the suspension of peace talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, after Turkey sent a seismic vessel to the region in protest against the drilling.

However, Eni-KOGAS suspended its search in April last year after failing to find enough gas in the block’s Amathusa and Onasagoras reservoirs to justify exploitation.

At the time, Greek Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis told parliamentary representatives that the consortium, which also has drilling rights in blocks 2 and 3, had asked for a two-year delay to examine its data. Drilling is expected to resume in 2017, he said.

The withdrawal of the Eni-KOGAS drillship was quickly followed by the withdrawal of the Turkish ship, thus allowing peace talks to resume.

Gas fueling peace

Ever since Turkish Cypriot elected Mustafa Akinci as president in May last year, peace talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots have been progressing steadily towards a possible re-run of a 2004 referendum to reunite the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in accordance with a UN-backed plan.

It will be the first time Cyprus has come this close to reunification since the Greek Cypriot side overwhelmingly voted against it in the previous referendum ahead of their accession to the EU.

Earlier this year at Davos, Akinci and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades stated that both communities should cooperate on energy matters.

Akinci said newly found hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean would act as “a source of peace, stability and cooperation rather than conflict and tension.”

Anastasiades said that the discovery of hydrocarbon in the region opened up new possibilities for cooperation and synergy.

It is hoped that peace in Cyprus could pave the way for exporting gas to Europe by 2022.

Plans for a possible Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant have been put on hold as the amount of gas found so far does not economically justify its construction.

In June 2015, the Greek Cypriot energy minister told Turkish media that gas could be exported to the European market through pipelines through Turkey.

“The Cyprus issue should be resolved in order to study the option of exporting natural gas through Turkey to Europe. If this option is possible, it should also be studied technically and economically,” he said.

TRTWorld and agencies