Turkey vows to stop ExxonMobil drill off Cyprus

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Turkey threatens to prevent ExxonMobil’s search for oil and gas off Cyprus after Nicosia awarded it the rights to Block 5 in the island’s economic exclusive zone.

Cyprus on Thursday awarded natural gas exploration rights for Block 5 to the ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum consortium, with the US giant given administrative rights as the owner of 60% of the consortium.

The Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry claimed that a part of the licensed area in question violates Turkey’s continental shelf in the eastern Mediterranean just hours after the deal was announced.

The eastern Mediterranean has become an energy hot spot with big natural gas finds for Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt in recent years.

Turkey’s push to secure a share of the resources has exacerbated tension in the region.

Ankara was accused of “gunboat diplomacy”, when in February 2018, the Turkish navy prevented an ENI-leased drillship from reaching its drilling target in Cyprus’ Block 3.

The European Commissioned has urged Turkey to sustain de-escalation in the region while vowing to defend the interests of member states Greece and Cyprus if it didn’t.

Turkey, however, does not seem to be backing down, arguing it is protecting its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots.

As Turkey argues, the self-proclaimed ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, recognized only by Ankara, lays claim to any energy resources discovered off its coast as the island’s natural resources belong to both communities.

“Turkey will never allow any foreign country, company or ship to engage in hydrocarbon exploration activities in its maritime jurisdictions,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

Turkey accused Cyprus of escalating tensions in the eastern Mediterranean by awarding exploration and drilling rights to the venture.

Turkey “will continue to resolutely defend” its rights and the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, the Foreign Ministry said.

ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum are licensed to exploit Block 10, where natural gas was discovered at the Glafcos well.

In February 2019, the consortium discovered a huge natural gas reserve off the coast of Cyprus in block 10, the island’s largest find to date, holding an estimated five to eight trillion cubic feet.

Block 10 is 2,572 square kilometres, with ExxonMobil again holding 60% interest with Qatar Petroleum owning 40%.

The consortium plans on drilling an appraisal well on Block 10 in December, with results expected by the end of February.

The discovery of nearby Egypt’s huge Zohr offshore reservoir in 2015 has stoked interest that Cypriot waters hold the same riches.

Cyprus has pushed ahead with exploring offshore energy resources despite the collapse in 2017 of UN talks to end the country’s decades-long division.

Turkey was widely condemned for sending drillships into Cyprus waters for energy exploration; the EU has also sanctioned it.

In the first half of 2022, ENI and Total are expected to drill in their licensed blocks, including an appraisal well at ENI’s Calypso discovery in Block 6.

They called off 2020 Cyprus explorations due to the coronavirus outbreak.