Jan 27 2019

Soon there is going to be trouble in East Mediterranean - analyst

Massive gas discoveries off the coasts of Egypt, Israel and Cyprus escalated tensions in an already unstable region being up for the world's next big energy hub, James Osborne, an analyst covering the intersection of energy and politics, wrote on Jan. 25 to Houston Chronicle. 

Following the discoveries led by international oil companies such as Houston’s Noble Energy, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus announced earlier this month they had formed a joint group to develop the infrastructure necessary to transfer gas out of the eastern Mediterranean.

"But the political issues around Cyprus and Turkey continue to cloud that promise. And considering the long history of conflict in the region — stretching back not just decades but centuries to the days of the Ottoman Empire — finding a solution will be difficult," Houston Chronicle quoted Bülent Alirıza as saying, a senior associate at the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Three months ago, ahead of Exxon Mobil's plans to drill a natural gas well off the coast of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Turkey's Foreign Ministry released a statement calling oil companies "to consider the realities on the ground". 

In the early days of 2018, Turkish naval ships obstructed a ship contracted by Italian oil company Eni from approaching southwest of Cyprus to explore for natural gas.

Turkey, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, claims that certain areas in Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone, known as an EEZ, fall into the jurisdiction of Turkey or that of Turkish Cypriots.

“Turkey has shown a willingness to defend their interests even if it brings them into conflict with other countries,” said Aliriza, “this issue bears watching because I think there’s going to be trouble,” he added.

However, Turkey's interventions -that have many in the oil sector worried- might be limited. 

"Turkey is unlikely to interfere with American companies, lest it provokes the U.S. military. But it might disrupt the operations of the French oil company Total, which has partnered with Eni on its contract to drill in waters in the Cypriot waters claimed by Turkey," Charles Ellinas, the former CEO of the Cypriot National Hydrocarbon Co. said.

Cyprus has always been geopolitically important that comes with a long history of conflict stretching back not just decades but centuries to the days of the Ottoman Empire. Turkish invasion in the 1970s that divided the island nation between ethnic Turks and Greeks and led to the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which neither the United States, Europe nor the United Nations recognises.

Greek Cypriots, who are exploring for natural gas, run Cyprus’s internationally recognised government. Turkish Cypriots run a breakaway state recognised only by Ankara in north Cyprus and say resources around the island belong to them too.

“You bring in the existing problems, a Syrian war, a Lebanese civil war, and then add energy, which always brings the potential for dispute,” Houston Chronicle quoted Alirıza as saying.

“The Eastern Med has a long history of dispute, and this is feeding off of that and adding new ones.”