Turkey may untie the knot in the Eastern Mediterranean

Turkey may untie the knot in the Eastern Mediterranean

Exploration activities conducted in the shade of navies in the Eastern Mediterranean, the world's new power-sharing area, can enter into a peaceful and economic orbit only with the partnership of Turkey.

Written by Hakan GÜLDAĞ

'Turbulence' is experienced in major seas around Turkey. Waters are 'warming up' a metaphor that diplomacy editors like. Energy is the focus of this warming. Who will have the energy resources? And will the security of energy be ensured? In the background, we are experiencing a worldwide hegemony competition that goes beyond an energy struggle.

Nowadays, one of the most intensely competitive seas is the Eastern Mediterranean, one of the most popular hydrocarbon areas of our time. Of course, the most popular for the European Union...

Europe is almost like a hungry animal for energy resources. But unfortunately Europe is unlucky in terms of energy resources. Energy security has a critical importance for the EU.

The emergence of a total of 3.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, the largest being in Egypt, has created the hope and opportunity for the EU not to depend on its only distributor channel, such as Russia and Ukraine, the only supplier of energy resources for the EU.

In this context, the EU is immediately “showing its paws” to all attempts to undermine the safety and sustainability of its oil and gas lines. It is clear that it will continue to react.

Russia and USA are at a chess draw

What makes the situation even more complicated and somewhat dangerous is that Russia has different rivalries in this region. First, transferring gas from the Eastern Mediterranean -which has become a natural gas lake- to Europe, is contradicting with Russia's interests. Secondly, Russia was trying to regain its global power position internationally, even before the discovery of natural gas off the coast of Egypt and Southern Cyprus. And it saw the Eastern Mediterranean as the most effective region for this. Developments in Syria made Russia's job easier. Now there is intense competition between the US and Russia over who will have a word in these waters.

For now, it is possible to speak of a 'chess draw' between two great powers. Even the fact that both military forces have 12 warships in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean close to Syria is an ironic projection of that chess draw… However, the new matches will undoubtedly bring new moves and combinations.


Eastmed Project without Turkey raises costs

Ibn Khaldun strongly emphasizes that geography is the fate of a country. The presence of natural gas has complicated things in the Eastern Mediterranean even more. There are many countries around this sea. However, the riparian states can neither form an “exclusive economic zone” nor determine the continental shelf. Every country has its own view and claims. None can agree on these claims. Competition is exacerbated by the involvement of great powers in the business.

An example of this is experienced amongst the Greek Cypriot administration, Turkey, Greece and the European Union. Everybody's got their sleeves rolled up to strengthen their position. Greece and Southern Cyprus have pushed the EU and the power which is starving for energy backing them. In this process, new alliances, and thus new friction points are emerging.

One of them is the pipeline project for the transport of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe called EastMed.

The button has not yet been launched For EastMed, which the European Commission has called a “joint interest project'. The project has been postponed for many times. It doesn't seem easy to be realized neither.

Firstly although the shortest route for a pipeline is to pass through Turkey and that is the most appropriate option, Turkey is planned to be excluded from the project and that makes EastMed extremely costly.

Secondly political reasons... In particular, the Cyprus problem between Turkey, Greece, Southern Cyprus and Northern Cyprus considerably complicates the implementation of the project.

The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Platform which gathered at the beginning of this year is also far from providing solutions to the problem. Even if Turkey is not included in the pipeline Project, it is not easy to stand against subsequent political developments' challenges.


Turkey in the game with its own ships

In fact, Turkey showed a lot of effort to negotiate with international energy companies and participate in the drilling activities around the island of Cyprus for a period of time. However, this effort was not answered.

TURKEY said that the search activities should be done by considering the rights of the TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). It gave the message to other parties: “If necessary, let's engage in search activities together”. However, these approaches did not find any response.

This time Turkey, has launched its own research and drilling ships. For a while American, Italian, French companies were operating natural gas drilling activities, this time Turkish ships, Fatih and Yavuz started.

It started, yes but this process increased the 'hostile' attitude against Turkey also. Now the question of what the appropriate sanctions are is being discussed in Brussels. At every opportunity Turkey is reminded that it still hasn't signed the United Nations Maritime Law Treaty that foresees to determine the boundaries of the Exclusive Economic Zone (MEB) and hasn't allowed the activities of drilling vessels in controversial zones.


Without Turkey there's problem

Whatever the reason is, it is very clear that the route taken against Turkey is an invitation to problems.

Turkey's neighbors in the Mediterranean have currently increased the dose of their irresponsible approach. In particular, the Greek Cypriot Administration, which declared that it would sabotage Brussels policies including 'enlargement of the EU', has taken the EU in a grip.

Indeed, the EU remains a part of the problem rather than solving it in the Eastern Mediterranean, too. Leading actors of the Union do not help at all. The most concrete example of this is the provocative steps taken by France, which seems to have been willing to exhibit its military power.

In Turkish we have a saying “approaching the fire with bellows”. And the US is running to a fire in the Eastern Mediterranean with a gas can in hand, as it does in many parts of the world. The Trump administration is clearly taking sides, let alone taking steps to reach a compromise in the region.

As a result, the mechanisms to reduce tension in the region and to lead the parties to reconciliation and resolution are not working. Every actor seeks to benefit from this situation for its own benefit. The Eastern Mediterranean is in danger of being divided into areas of penetration.

There is no need to be an oracle to predict that the conflict base will increase in an environment where the US abandons the role of 'order-making power', the absence of a sound international governance system to compromise, and perhaps most alarmingly, in the absence of proper efforts to reestablish a common ground between countries.


Turkey is an ideal and strategic partner

However, there is still an opportunity for all countries in the region to benefit fairly from the wealth of the Eastern Mediterranean. In order to solve the problems, one of the great powers of the region, Turkey needs to be called for partnership for this new energy field of the world.

According to the experts in the field and diplomacy and political circles if disputes should be left aside both because of its the geographical location and its strong infrastructure for production and industry, Turkey is an ideal partner for all development projects in the Eastern Mediterranean including the pipeline project.

Turkey claiming to be an 'energy hub' in the region, approaches  all these initiatives warmly because of its goals.

A compromise will eventually be reached in the Eastern Mediterranean. What is important is to reach the compromise without a “crash” in the region with all the battle and drill ships in the region and without a conflict erupting.

If empathy and economic reason can come into play, it is not difficult to create wealth in the Eastern Mediterranean at the lowest cost!


Why Eastern Mediterranean gas?


The Eastern Mediterranean basin, which has not received much attention in the past, has been the center of attention in recent years.

This is due to the decline in production in relatively old sites such as the North Sea and the near-end of the easy oil era. Attention began to focus on deeper waters and natural gas.

Currently, energy giants such as Total, ENI, BP, Sheel, Exxonmobil, QatarPetroleum operate in the region.

According to the US sources, the total amount of natural gas reserves determined so far in the Eastern Mediterranean is approximately 3.5 trillion cubic meters.

Around 3.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas is produced annually in the world.

In other words, if all of the reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean are activated, it will meet the world's natural gas demand for only one year. There are around 195 trillion cubic meters of proven natural gas reserves in the world. Nearly 1.5 percent of this consists of the Eastern Mediterranean gas.


Russia has the largest natural gas reserves in the world with 35 trillion cubic meters. Iran has 33 trillion and Qatar has 25 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves. Middle East is the region with most natural gas reserves which is about 80 trillion cubic meters. The reserves of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which includes Russia and Turkmenistan, are 60 trillion cubic meters.

The region with the world's least natural gas reserves is Europe with 3 trillion cubic meters.

Therefore, natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially around the island of Cyprus, are of great importance for Europe.

Europe consumes approximately 450 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually. It imports more than half of it from Russia. It wants to reduce its dependence on Russia and increase its alternatives.



How did we get to this point in the Eastern Mediterranean?

+ The history of exploration of natural gas and oil in the Eastern Mediterranean goes back to 70 years ago. The first systematic searches began in the 1950s on the coast. In the 1970s and 90s searches turned to deeper waters. Natural gas reserves that were found started to be extracted in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But the amounts were very low. It didn't even meet Israel's own need.

+In 2002, the research vessel Northern Access from Norway which was operating a seismic survey on behalf of Southern Cyprus administration was stopped and removed from the area by the TGC Giresun frigate whick took abroad from Turkey's Aksaz military base.

+In 2004, Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus' attempt to to determine 'Exclusive Economic Zone' prompted Turkey to take action. Turkey sent a notice to the United Nations declaring where Turkey's interests exit.

+ In 2007 Southern Cyprus launched an international tender for hydrocarbon exploration.

+2009 is an important milestone for the Eastern Mediterranean. The first major natural gas exploration took place at Tamar, 90 km away from Haifa, at a depth of 1700 meters, which was accepted within Israel's 'Exclusive Economic Zone '. It is estimated that there are 80 billion cubic meters of natural gas in the 'Tamar' field, which means palm tree and is used as a female name in Israel. The discovery brought political debates to the region. Lebanon, in particular, claimed that much of the discovered field was within its jurisdiction.

+ In 2010, Israel discovered an even greater reserve than Tamar area and named it the  'Leviathan site' after a legendary sea monster in the Torah. That also led to even greater objections and controversies. The natural gas reserve at a depth of 1500 meters is 622 billion cubic meters and the amount of natural gas alone is sufficient to meet Israel's 40-year need.

+ In the same year, the Greek Cypriot Administration made an agreement with the Israeli about maritime borders. Turkey declared the agreement void because it disobeys the TRNC's jurisdiction and interests.

+ In 2011, the tender of the Greek Cypriot Administration to NobleEnergy, which was conducting a search on behalf of Israel, was concluded. Natural gas was found in the area called Aphrodite 30 km west of the Leviathan field which was 160 km south of Limassol. This first natural gas field of Southern Cyprus has a depth of 1700 meters and a capacity of 129 billion cubic meters.

+ In 2012, the discussion of the areas of authority on the Eastern Mediterranean intensified. The conflicting maps increased the tension. Prepared by the Turkish scientists, the map of Turkey's Exclusive Economic Zone of the Mediterranean shows a region of 145 thousand square kilometers whereas Greek scientists prepared another map showing a region reduced to 41 thousand square kilometers in a sense trapping Turkey only to a region around Antalya and Iskenderun Bay.

+ 10 years after the Northern Access event, in 2012, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of Turkey licensed Turkey Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) for exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

+ In 2015, Egypt found the largest natural gas reserve ever in the Eastern Mediterranean. The discovery was made by ENI, the leading Italian energy company. The natural gas reserve of Zohr, which is 150 km off the coast of Egypt, is 850 billion cubic meters. Production will begin at the end of this year. The target is 30 billion cubic meters per year. In 2018, Egypt explored the Nur site, about 50 km north of the Sinai Peninsula. It has not yet been announced how large the reserve is. However, it is estimated to be a Zohr-sized reserve.

+In 2018 the second natural gas reserve in Cyprus was also discovered. The natural gas field called Calypso, the mysterious goddess of Oddesus and found as the result of the researches of ENI, is at a depth of 3,837 meters, with a total of 2,774 meters at sea. The size of the reserve has not yet been announced. Feasibility studies are ongoing. Estimates range from 169 billion cubic meters to 226 billion cubic meters.

+In 2019, the representatives of Israel, Greek Cypriot Administration, Greece, Italy, Jordan and Palestine met in Cairo. After the meeting, the 'Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum' was announced. The aim of the Forum was to design the Eastern Mediterranean dish as an energy base and to cooperate in the use of the region's resources. Three countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria did not attend the meeting.

+ This year, at the end of February, in a process which increased Turkey's objections, ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum partnership, reached a natural gas field and named it after the symbolic owl 'Glaucus' which belongs to the goddess, Minevra representing wisdom in Greek mythology and at the same time a marine creature. According to preliminary estimates, the capacity of the Glaucus-1 reserve is between 142 and 227 billion cubic meters. The Greek Cypriot Administration declared the discovery to be the largest reserve of Cyprus.

+ Turkish Naval Forces Command carried out Denizkurdu-2019, the largest planned exercise in the history of the Republic, with the participation of 131 ships, 57 planes and 33 helicopters in three seas surrounding Anatolia, including the Eastern Mediterranean.