Eastern Med gas body is big step, but where’s Turkey? - FP
The creation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum is a potentially important step, but the new organisation has a few notable absences, especially Turkey, Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday.
The forum, announced on Monday in Cairo at a gathering of leaders from Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories, formalises increasing energy ties in the region and could spur the development of much-needed energy infrastructure. Yet the absence of Syria, Lebanon, and especially Turkey, could be an issue, said the U.S. magazine.
“Ankara’s repeated opposition to energy exploration off the coast of Cyprus, which Turkey views as disputed waters, has cast a cloud over the development of natural gas discoveries in the region,” Foreign Policy’s geo-economics correspondent Keith Johnson wrote. “Turkish warships chased away an Italian drillship operating off Cyprus last year, and Ankara tried to warn off ExxonMobil from drilling in its own block off the Cypriot coast late last year.”
Turkey has also begun exploratory drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, increasing tensions between Ankara and Athens. The map below details the competing claims of Cyprus and Turkey.
Brenda Shaffer, an energy expert at Georgetown University, said that the new body would promote discussion among countries that are already cooperating with each other. “Hopefully, in the next round of the forum, Turkey will be involved, and that would make it much more significant and not just include the happy campers,” she told FP.
The creation of the forum comes just as energy development is picking up pace in the eastern Mediterranean. Israeli gas exports to Egypt will start in the first half of this year, Israel’s energy minister said Monday, and Israel will start development of additional offshore gas fields this year.
Egypt is now producing enough gas that it has stopped importing pricey liquefied gas to power its economy. Lebanon hopes to start drilling a pair of offshore areas this year.
Cyprus is keen to develop its own gas resources, and Nicosia and ExxonMobil plan to announce in February the results of exploratory drilling in two blocks southwest of Cyprus.
“A significant find there would be huge for Cyprus because the relatively small size of its earlier offshore discoveries made it tough to economically get the gas to market,” Johnson wrote. “A big new field could pave the way for either a pipeline to Egypt or a gas-liquefying facility in Cyprus.”
But even with the creation of the new organisation and increased energy exploration, the eastern Mediterranean has a long way to go to truly become an energy hub for Europe and a legitimate alternative to Russian gas, according to FP.