Drilling in Med Sea to continue despite pandemic: Minister

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Turkey will not suspend its drilling activities in the east Mediterranean Sea although energy prices have fallen to historic levels due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Turkish energy minister said on May 11.

“We will continue with our working programs in our areas in accordance with the licences taken from both the Republic of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [TRNC],” Fatih Dönmez told daily Milliyet.

Oil prices, which are floating more than 50 percent below the levels at the end of last year due to low demand, are expected to rise again after OPEC countries led by Saudi Arabia and other producers including Russia ended a price war as of May 1, the minister recalled.

“These [drilling] activities consume a long period of time. If they are paused, the working plan will be disrupted for at least a couple of years. We will continue with our program without wasting time,” he added.

Turkey, as a guarantor nation for the Cyprus island, is currently carrying out hydrocarbon exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean with its drilling vessels, Fatih and Yavuz, along with other seismic vessels that are also operating in the same region. Most recently, Turkey sent its third drilling ship Kanuni to the southern province of Mersin in March.

Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.

Meanwhile, the collapse in oil prices has resulted in an appetite loss for international actors in the region.

U.S. company ExxonMobil has put its drilling plans offshore Cyprus on hold from April 13 because of unpredictability in international markets.

The drilling programs of a consortium formed by the Italian company ENI and French company Total have also been postponed for the planned 3 wells in 2020 and 6 wells in the following two years.

“The financial difficulties experienced by the countries and companies have again shown that the most economical and rational option to open the natural gas resources of the eastern Mediterranean to the world is the Turkey route,” said Dönmez.

The issue has become a matter of conflict between Turkey and the EU after Brussels claimed the Turkish drilling in the region was “illegal” although it has no jurisdiction.

“The EU should understand that it cannot achieve a result with this understanding. Our expectation from the EU is to encourage Greek Cyprus for a dialogue with the Turkish Cypriots and Greece with our country,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on April 24.

A maritime pact enacted by Turkey and Libya on Dec. 8, 2019, has asserted the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cyprus in the region.

“The agreement with Libya has strengthened our existence in the eastern Mediterranean. The licencing works for our jurisdiction are continuing,” Dönmez said, adding that the whole area will be opened for seismic research soon.

Hurriyet Daily News

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