3 November, 2018 08:57

Renewed Tension between Greece and Turkey over Cypriot Gas: Petrostrategies

The article was published in the World Energy Weekly (Nov. 5 issue), a publication of Petrostrategies, a French think-tank specialized in research on energy, economy and geopolitics.

Tensions are once again rising between Athens and Ankara on the issue of maritime borders around the island of Cyprus. On October 30, a deep-water drillship called Fatih, protected by Turkish warships, entered the Mediterranean Sea. It will operate in or near the disputed area. This initiative by Ankara comes against a background of already high tensions with Athens. On October 18, a Greek warship approached dangerously close to a Turkish vessel (Barbaros) responsible for collecting seismic data. Turkey “will not let that happen again”, said Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. He also threatened to use military force to resist Greece if it ever implements its plan to extend its maritime borders. In October, the Greek Foreign Ministry said that Athens would consider expanding its 19-kilometer maritime domain into the Ionian Sea. The Aegean Sea (which is a source of problems with Ankara) is therefore not involved.

The gas potential of Cyprus is rekindling tensions between Athens and Ankara

For his part, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez claimed that “we don’t have our eyes on anyone’s resources. […] Our only aim is to put into the service of our people the riches in every inch under our sovereignty”. In early October, the government of the Republic of Cyprus invited Eni, ExxonMobil and Total to bid to explore offshore block 7, which has a high gas potential. These majors already have an exploration license for Block 6 of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In February, Eni and Total announced the discovery of significant reserves in this area. Before October, other incidents had occurred in recent months. The gas potential of Cyprus is thus rekindling tension between Athens and Ankara. This began in 1974, when the Turks invaded the northern half of the island, and nearly degenerated into open warfare on three occasions. Fighting between Turkish and Greek Cypriots has caused thousands of deaths since the 1960s.

Using Egypt’s infrastructure, Cyprus hopes to become a major gas producer and exporter over the coming years, supplying Europe and/or Asia, probably in the form of LNG. To achieve this goal, the country is relying on its Aphrodite field, but this is not enough: it will have to find and exploit other fields, which is why Nicosia is trying to accelerate exploration campaigns. This has angered Turkey, which is calling for this work to be stopped until agreement is reached on the reunification of Cyprus. Negotiations on this issue were broken off in 2017.