ExxonMobil is expected to launch its two-well drilling programme in Block 10 offshore Cyprus by the end of November, a Cypriot government source told NewsBase Intelligence (NBI).
Neil Chapman, a senior vice president from the US company, visited Nicosia earlier this month to discuss upcoming drilling operations with the Cypriot government. This prompted Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot administration in northern Cyprus to threaten Nicosia with further disruption of its offshore exploration work.
Turkey claims a large portion of Cyprus’ EEZ to the west of the island as part of its continental shelf. The Turkish-Cypriot administration claims it has rights to a huge swathe of the Cypriot EEZ to the east and south of the island.
All of the EEZ that has been demarcated into exploration blocks lies well south of the island and fringes the EEZs of Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.
Turkey also warned Greece that it risks a military conflict if it continues with its energy exploration activity in the East Mediterranean and its support for Cyprus.
During the sixth tripartite meeting between Greek, Cypriot and Egyptian leaders in Crete on October 10, Athens and Cairo agreed to proceed with plans to delimit their maritime EEZs under the guidelines of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
That decision resulted in Turkey sending its seismic vessel Barbaros Hayyedin Pasha to an area south of Turkey and west of Cyprus where the maritime delimitation lines of Greece and Egypt meet. Turkey issued a Navtex announcing that the Barbaros would be conducting seismic research in the area until February 1 in an attempt to identify the area as its own.
Greece also announced that it intended to extend its maritime border from six nautical miles to 12 in an area of the Ionian Sea between the Peloponnese and Crete and that it would eventually do so in the Aegean. The announcement caused Turkey’s foreign ministry to summon the Greek ambassador for an explanation. The two countries have a long-standing dispute over their borders in the Aegean and encounters between the Greek and Turkish navies in the region are common.
Earlier this week, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was reported by Turkish independent daily Ahval as saying: “No fait accompli or step taken against Turkey in Cyprus, the Aegean or the Eastern Mediterranean will be permitted.”
As ExxonMobil’s drilling draws nearer, Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot warnings about further exploration have escalated.
Ankara’s objection to exploration in Cyprus’ EEZ stems from its own claims plus its declared support for the Turkish-Cypriot administration’s demand that it has rights to the natural resources offshore Cyprus. The Cypriot government has repeatedly stated that the benefits of developing the resources will be shared by all Cypriot citizens following a settlement in the island’s political problems, but that offer has fallen short of Turkish-Cypriot demands for a role in deciding how the resources will be developed. This suggests the real issue at stake is not a sharing of the benefits, but rather Ankara taking control of the resources. Turkey is highly dependent on hydrocarbon imports, the rising costs of which are partly responsible for its recent economic problems.
Turkish-Cypriot Foreign Minister Kudret Ozersay, a pre-eminent figure in the government with Ankara’s backing, said this week that Turkey would react to ExxonMobil’s drilling in Block 10. In an interview with Greek-Cypriot newspaper Philelefteros, Ozersay said there were sections of Block 10 where the Turkish Cypriots also have rights. This is despite the fact that Block 10 lies some 200 km southwest of the island and is well south of the area claimed by Turkey as its continental shelf.
If this is the case, Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriots sovereignty claim would extend across all of Cyprus’ 13 demarcated offshore blocks with the exception of Block 11, where France’s Total and Italy’s Eni have a licence.
Turkey’s continental shelf claim extends into Cyprus Blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7. The Turkish-Cypriot administration claims rights in blocks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12, 13 and now 10.
The Cypriot official told NBI it will take ExxonMobil about two months to drill the two wells, both of which will be in the southern portion of the block. These will be the first wells to be drilled offshore Cyprus since Eni made the 200 bcm Calypso gas discovery in Block 6 in January and was subsequently prevented from drilling a well in Block 3 by Turkish warships.