Cyprus drilling, now started, prompts flurry of diplomatic, military activity

The West Capella drilling ship hired by a consortium comprised of Total and Eni launched its exploration work at Block 11 in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) last Wednesday, as was scheduled, amid heightened diplomatic and military activity, as anticipated by the Cyprus government.

Turkey has made clear its intentions to escalate the tension amid the intensifying competition for natural gas and other interests in the region.

The West Capella drilling ship, which has reached Block 11’s sea bed, at 1,698 meters below sea level and on a slight angle towards the southwest, has been given a 21 percent chance of discovering a natural gas field, a relatively high probability rating. Drilling is expected to reach 2,230 meters. The initial results are expected to be determined by mid-September.

As a result of Total’s involvement, France is keeping a close watch on the overall developments. The country’s defense minister Florence Parly, expected in Cyprus today, will visit French frigates that initially arrived in the wider area to contribute to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) before being moved to Larnaca, on the southern coast of Cyprus, over the past few days.

The visiting French defense minister, who is scheduled to hold talks with her Cypriot counterpart, Christoforos Fokaidis, may also visit Total’s drilling platform.

Besides the French frigates, Cypriot, US and Greek forces have also been deployed to protect the drilling activity and Total’s interests. The region already represents a crucial launching pad for operations in Syria and Iraq.

French President Emmanuel Macron is keeping an open line of communication with the Cypriot government. In addition, Cyprus’s Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulidis recently traveled to France for an official visit.

Making the current hydrocarbon exploration activity in Cypriot waters even more complicated, the West Capella drilling ship arrived to the country’s EEZ just days after the breakdown of the latest UN-backed Cyprus reunification talks.

In the lead up to the drilling at Cyprus’s Block 11, a US State Department official declared that the US recognizes Cyprus’s rights to develop sources within its EEZ, adding that Washington will continue to discourage any actions that may escalate tension in the region. This statement has been interpreted as a show of support for the Cypriot government and Total. Many pundits have linked the US support to the prospective interests of US energy giant ExxonMobil in Cyprus and Greece.

The State Department official also added that the US continues to believe that Cypriot oil and natural gas revenues need to be shared fairly between the divided island’s Greek and Turkish communities.

The Cypriot govermnent has declared that Turkey’s aggressive response comes as no major surprise. Fokaidis, the Cypriot defense minister, stressed there is no reason for alarm, adding that “the sooner we stop being involved with what’s happening at the drilling rig the better.”

However, he also admitted the situation is being closely monitored, adding that Cypriot officials are implementing plans they have been trained to implement, cooperating with all interested parties, and remaining focused – seriously and calmly – on the national objective, which is “to fulfil our energy plans.”