Battle looms over Cypriot offshore energy rights

Turkey launched its first drill ship, the Fatih, in October. Officials say it will be moved to Cyprus after it finishes work in March on the Alanya-1 prospect offshore Turkey’s southern Antalya province.

Turkey will begin drilling for oil and gas around Cyprus, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week, a move that is obviously intended to position Turkey ahead of the fight to determine legal rights to offshore oil and gas resources in the island’s territorial waters.

In November, Exxonmobil together with its partner, Qatar Petroleum began to drill the “Delphyne-1” well in Block 10, within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus. The partners won the block in the third offshore licensing round in December 2016.

The Exxonmobil has hired Stena Drilling’s Stena Icemax drillship for drilling at the site, in watners 1.973 meters deep. The partners are committed to drilling two wells in Block 10 under contract to the Cyprus government.

The ExxonMobil-Qatar Petroleum consortium acquired 3-D seismic data before moving on to the two exploration wells in the first license period. The consortium also agreed to work with the government of Cyprus to build skills and strengthen understanding of the petroleum business through focused training programs.

Friction between Athens and Ankara is increasing as exploration and drilling ramps up in the Eastern Mediterranean. While resources offshore Israel, Syria and Egypt are more or less defined because of clarity over who controls which territorial waters, the question of “who owns what” around the divided island of Cyprus is another matter.

Turkey and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government in Cyprus have overlapping claims of offshore jurisdiction.

Turkey will start drilling around Cyprus because the Greek Cypriot government did not listen to Ankara’s suggestions to ensure the rights of Turkish Cypriots, Cavusoglu said during an interview following a meeting with the Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.

Cavusoglu told journalists that Turkey has rerouted a drill ship destined for the Black Sea to Cyprus instead. “Our drill ship Fatih is currently in the Alanya-1 area, its work there will be done in March. We are shifting that to the south too,” mass media quoted him as saying.

Turkey launched its first drill ship Fatih in October to drill off the coast of Turkey’s southern Antalya province and had said a second ship that it purchased would operate in the Black Sea.

While Turkey has not claimed the field where the Exxonmobil-Qatar consortium has begun drilling, it insists that some of Cyprus’ prospecting areas lie within its jurisdiction. It also refuses to recognize what it calls “unilateral exploration activities” by Cyprus, insisting that Turkish-Cypriots on the island’s ethnically divided north should receive a generous cut in any discovery.

North Cyprus, which is supported by Turkey, says any offshore wealth also belongs to them, as partners in the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960. Greek Cypriots, who run the island’s internationally recognized government, say any future benefits of gas finds will eventually be shared by all Cypriots.

Cavusoglu said Ankara would not be satisfied by such statements.

The island was split in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Countless peacemaking endeavors have failed, and offshore wealth has increasingly complicated peace negotiations even though Greek Cypriots say that matter is not up for discussion.