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Analysts ponder whether Turkey’s “miracle” gas discovery could be a dud

Turkish drilling vessel Fatih.
Turkish drilling vessel Fatih.

Energy import-dependent Turkey has hailed its gas discovery in the Black Sea as a “miracle”, insisting it has the potential to meet one-third of its natural gas needs, but some analysts are sceptical that it will turn out to be anything like as impressive.

"The find was very hastily announced after such a limited period of exploration," Nate Schenkkan, director for special research at US think tank Freedom House, told DW in assessing the potential of the Sakarya gas field, announced with great fanfare by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on August 21.

"If you say this is an economic miracle and that it's going to have this enormous impact, you have to be able to explain the dynamics behind it," he added. "We want to know the price of extraction, the price at which you'll be able to sell it, the rate of extraction...."

Turkey currently relies on Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan for up to three-quarters of its energy needs. It is also possibly slipping towards a second balance of payments crisis within two years and there is suspicion that the timing of the gas discovery announcement—in which Erdogan gave a preliminary estimation of 320bn cubic metres (11.3 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas and predicted that there would be much more discovered in the vicinity—was designed to give the embattled Turkish president a lift with an unhappy electorate and help defend the Turkish lira, facing turbulent times on the currency markets once more.

Erdogan pledged that the first gas from Sakarya would reach Turkish consumers by 2023 but given the complex nature of deepwater gas extraction that may be overly optimistic.

"The targeted start-up date already looks ambitious" as it would require a "world-class and near-unprecedented project execution," Ashley Sherman, principal analyst (Caspian & Europe) at energy research house Wood Mackenzie, told DW. Turkey, however, lacks experience of deep-sea gas production.

Sherman also reportedly said that more wells needed to be appraised first to confirm resource estimates at Sakarya and to understand the geology of the field, as the Black Sea posed additional logistical challenges.

Some analysts think that it could take up to a decade to begin to extract the gas and that state-run energy firm TPAO will need to form a joint venture with a foreign energy giant to fully realise the project. Ankara has insisted it will go it alone.