The Case for an Eastern Mediterranean Energy Corridor

16 October, 2012 | Posted By: Financial Mirror

By Dr. Andrestinos N. Papadopoulos, Ambassador a.h.

Recent developments in our region have placed emphasis on the energy sector. Rightly so, because several states in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Israel and Cyprus are currently developing their offshore hydrocarbon resources. The recoverable energy resources of our region, the Levant Basin and the Nile Delta Basin Province are so large that the prospects of important economic changes are really promising. Indeed, the recent discoveries of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean are already altering the geopolitical map of the region, and its importance. Existing pipelines from Russia, South Africa and Norway, together with the proposed pipeline projects from the Caspian Sea Basin through Turkey, constitute the main natural gas corridors to Europe. All of these transit routes, however, are sourced from, and/or controlled by non-EU member states, some of which are not natural allies of the EU. A new East-West additional energy corridor could establish a route by which the EU would be able to diversify its natural gas supply, without being dependent on non-EU sources, and transit routes. We, therefore, propose that the concept of an Eastern Mediterranean Energy Corridor (EMEC) should be given serious consideration, as it could be of considerable strategic and economic importance, not only for our region, but to the EU as a whole.
Of paramount importance for the achievement of this goal are a strong bilateral relationship, and a close co-operation in the field of energy between the state of Israel, and the Republic of Cyprus. In this respect, the omens are good. If the visit of President Simon Peres to Cyprus, in November 2011, showed how good Cyprus - Israeli relations are, Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit, in March this year, gave concrete substance to Cyprus - Israeli co-operation, by encouraging the two-sides to plan their national energy policy, which covers, inter alia, joint exploitation of gas, export destinations, location of terminals, etc. Already the Delek Energy Group, and Nobel Energy Inc., licensees of Cyprus’ Block 12, called for the construction of a liquefaction facility on Cyprus that, in its initial stages, would process and export natural gas received from the Israeli Leviathan field, and the Cyprus Aphrodite field. Consequently, a regional liquefaction facility in Cyprus would help provide other regional gas producers ready access to the European energy market, thus encouraging the further exploitation, and production of the Eastern Mediterranean gas fields.
However, regional co-operation in the Eastern Mediterranean has to take into account, and overcome serious difficulties due to maritime disputes between Israel and Lebanon, Cyprus and Turkey, as well as Greece and Turkey. Within this framework, Cyprus, in order to develop into a reliable LNG producer and supplier, must be able to ensure security of the huge investments that will be required. Security is a key factor for the development of the natural gas resources of the Eastern Mediterranean. Being a small and militarily weak country, Cyprus needs not only Israeli co-operation and assistance, but also European involvement. A good step in this direction could be considered the fact that several major EU energy companies have participated in Cyprus’ second licensing round, therefore, creating the possibility of becoming stakeholders in Eastern Mediterranean gas. The EU repeatedly asked Turkey to refrain from any kind of threats, and stressed the sovereign right of Cyprus to exploit its natural resources, along with other international players, like the USA, Russia, the UK and others. The influence, therefore, of these EU energy companies over EU policy makers could prove important.
Given the obvious advantages of having a secure source of energy, it would be in Europe’s interest to be fully involved in the development of natural gas resources of the Eastern Mediterranean. In this respect, Cyprus should seek EU Commission support. Greece and Italy, as well as other Southern EU countries could be of help in securing EU involvement. It should be stressed that such an energy corridor should not be seen as a competitor of existing energy supply routes to Europe, but as complimentary to Europe’s overall efforts to diversify, and secure its energy supplies. The economic, and political advantages of an Eastern Mediterranean Energy Corridor are very much in Europe’s best interests.
As far as Cyprus is concerned, we observe that the heaven-sent present of natural gas and hydrocarbons in our region, boosted its strategic importance as a means of transporting natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. This has been recognised, as already mentioned, by the interest shown in the second licensing round by international heavy-weights from European countries, such as France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK. Therefore, any action of Cyprus in the energy field should not be undertaken pro domo sua, but in the interest of Europe, which has already recognised the need for active engagement in promoting the energy infrastructure of the Mediterranean.
Given the Turkish threats for reprisals, and undesirable tensions, Cyprus should follow a wise and firm energy policy, within the framework of international law, so as to serve the interest of its citizens. It augers well that at this juncture the interests of foreign countries coincide with those of Cyprus.