Gas developments in the East Med

The international oil companies (IOCs) are still reeling under the impact of low oil and gas prices and massive losses and asset write-offs during 2020. ExxonMobil, under increasing pressure, is considering further spending cuts and even a shake-up of its board.

The path to full recovery will be slow and at the end of it, in 2-3 years, the IOCs will be different, placing more emphasis on clean energy and renewables.

In the meanwhile, around the East Med, Egypt is forging ahead. It has signed a new exploration agreement with Shell for an offshore block in the Red Sea. This is in addition to the 22 agreements signed during 2020 that included major IOCs such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, Eni and Total. Moreover, EGPC and EGAS are planning to offer onshore and offshore exploration blocks for bidding in February.

This continuing activity led to the discovery of 47 oil and 15 natural gas fields in 2020, 13% more than in 2019, despite Covid-19.

Tareq El-Molla, Egypt’s petroleum minister, signaled earlier this month Egypt’s intention to expand its petrochemicals sector to take advantage of the country’s expanding hydrocarbon resources. Egypt has updated its petrochemical national plan until 2023 to meet the increasing prospects in this industry.

LNG exports

Egypt has also benefited from the recent increase in LNG prices, resuming exports from its liquefaction plant at Idku, with most exports going to China, India and Turkey. The country is also ready to resume exports from its second liquefaction plant at Damietta starting end February. This has been lying idle since 2012 due to disputes that have now been resolved.

LNG exports will mainly utilize surplus gas from the Zohr gasfield and possibly imports from Israel, should prices allow it.

In fact, the resumption of LNG exports from Idku relieved some of the pressure on Egypt’s gas market, which is in oversupply partly due to impact of the pandemic, but also due to falling gas demand in Egypt’s power sector and growth in renewable energy.

El-Molla said that Egypt is planning a revival of its LNG exports. But this depends greatly on what happens to global markets and prices.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said that the Asian LNG demand and price spike in January was a short-term phenomenon and it is not an indicator that global demand will rebound in 2021. The IEA expects only a small recovery in global gas demand this year, after the decline in 2020, partly due to the pandemic. But given ongoing concerns over the pandemic, the rate of gas demand growth will remain uncertain. The IEA said the longer-term future of LNG markets remains challenging.

Gas from Israel

Chevron – having acquired Noble Energy and its interests in the region last year – with Delek and their partners in Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar gasfields, signed an agreement to invest $235million in a new subsea pipeline, expanding existing facilities. According to an announcement by Delek, the pipeline will connect facilities at Israeli city Ashod to the EMG pipeline at Ashkelon, enabling Chevron and its partners to increase gas exports to Egypt to as much as 7billion cubic meters annually (bcm/yr).

The partners signed agreements last year to export as much as 85bcm/yr gas to Egypt over a 15 year period. Gas supplies from Israel to Egypt started in January last year.

It is not clear at this stage if new agreements will be reached to fully utilize the increased export capacity from Israel to Egypt, but given Egypt’s gas oversupply this may not be likely.

These developments, though, show the vulnerability of Cyprus and the weakness of relying on trilateral alliances with Egypt and Israel for its gas exports.

EastMed gas pipeline

This is being kept alive by regional politicians. Only this week, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia confirmed their support for the EastMed gas pipeline.

While such developments are good politically, bringing like-minded countries around the East Med closer together, they are not sufficient to advance the project. This requires private investment and buyers of the gas in Europe. None of these is forthcoming, because the project is not commercially viable. By the time the gas arrives in Europe it will be too expensive to compete with existing, much cheaper, supplies.

Europe is also moving away from gas and from new gas pipeline projects. Catharina Sikow Magny, Director DG Energy European Commission (EC), covered this at the European Gas Virtual conference on 28 January. Answering the question how much natural gas will the EU need in the future, she said ZERO. She was emphatic that with the EU committed to net zero emissions by 2050, by then there will be zero unabated gas consumed in Europe. In addition, with the EU having increased the emissions reduction target from 40% to 55% by 2030, the use of gas in Europe will be decreasing in order to meet the 2030 and 2050 climate targets. She said that ongoing natural gas projects are expected to be completed by 2022 – with no more needed after that.

With exports to global markets becoming increasingly difficult, there are other regional options to make use of the gas discovered so far around the East Med, including power generation in support of intermittent renewables and petrochemicals, as Egypt is doing. The newly constituted East Med Gas Forum (EMGF) should place these at the heart of its agenda.

What about Cyprus?

Hydrocarbon exploration activities around Cyprus are at a standstill, partly due to the continuing impact of Covid-19, but also due to the dire state of the IOCs and the challenges being faced by the natural gas industry in general.

This lack of activity in resuming offshore exploration may be a blessing, taking the heat off hydrocarbons, while priorities shift to discussions to resolve the Cyprus problem and the Greece-Turkey maritime disputes.

Dr Charles Ellinas, @CharlesEllinas

Senior Fellow

Global Energy Center

Atlantic Council

3 February, 2021

 

Tension rises as Turkish vessel enters Greek continental shelf

The situation concerning the Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis, which entered the easternmost point of the Greek continental shelf yesterday, is unchanged today, the Athens-Macedonian News Agency has reported.

Oruc Reis is accompanied by Turkish naval units, while the situation is being monitored by the Greek Armed Forces, the Greek news agency has reported.

Tension has re-escalated in the east Mediterranean since yesterday afternoon, with Turkey disputing, in practice, the Greek-Egyptian EEZ agreement through the presence and maneuvering of its Oruc Reis research vessel and Turkish warships.

Turkish survey systems are believed to be ready for application, but, according to Greek estimates, research work cannot proceed as a result of noise being generated by nearby ships, both Greek and Turkish.

Greek navy units, lined up opposite the Turkish ships, are seeking to prompt a Turkish withdrawal. The Greek Air Force and Army are also on standby.

Posting on Twitter, Cagatay Erciyes, a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official, noted that Greece has created problems because of a 10-square-kilometer Greek island named Kastellorizo, which lies 2 kilometers away from the Turkish mainland and 580 kilometers from the Greek mainland.

“Greece is claiming 40,000 km2 of maritime jurisdiction area due to this tiny island and attempting to stop the Oruc Reis and block Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.

“This maximalist claim is not compatible with international law. It is against the principle of equality. Yet Greece is asking the EU and US to support this claim and put pressure on Turkey to cease its legitimate offshore activities. This is not acceptable and reasonable,” he said.

Cyprus has responded by issuing a Navtex of its own, effective from today until August 23, through which it notifies that the Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis and accompanying vessels are conducting illegal operations within Cyprus’ EEZ.

Greece, Egypt sign EEZ agreement, Turkey reacts

A Greek-Egyptian agreement signed yesterday to designate an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean between the two countries, an area containing promising oil and gas reserves, “confirms and secures the continental shelf and EEZ rights and influence of our islands,” declared Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.

The agreement, co-signed by Dendias with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, takes Greek-Egyptian relations to a new level of closer ties, Dendias noted.

“The agreement with Egypt is within the framework of international law, respects all concepts of international law and the law of the sea and good neighbourly relations, and contributes to security and stability in the region,” Dendias said.

The agreement between Greece and Egypt is the complete opposite of an illegal, invalid and legally groundless memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Libya, now nullified, he pointed out.

Greece is determined to establish EEZ agreements with all other neighboring countries, always within the framework of international law and the law of the sea, Dendias noted, citing yesterday’s Greek-Egyptian agreement and an agreement in June with Italy.

The Greek agreement with Italy, on maritime boundaries that established an EEZ, resolved longstanding issues over fishing rights in the Ionian Sea.

Turkey responded to yesterday’s Greek-Egyptian agreement by notifying it has scheduled a live-fire military exercise at a sea area between the Greek islands Rhodes and Kastelorizo for August 10 and 11.

Turkey tensions will not be escalated, ‘aim achieved’

Turkey will not continue intensifying its provocations in the East Mediterranean as the neighboring country has already achieved its main goal, a State Department declaration noting that the country is performing hydrocarbon exploration activities in disputed territory, Dr Konstantinos Nikolaou, a seasoned petroleum geologist and energy economist, supports.

Turkey’s provocations over the past few days – the country sent a seismic survey vessel into Greek EEZ waters for further exploration work following such initiatives in the past – represent part of a carefully planned strategy whose aim is to end Turkey’s East Mediterranean isolation of recent years and put the country back in the frame of the region’s hydrocarbon developments, experts believe.

Turkey has refused to sign the UN’s International Law of the Sea treaty, strongly disagreeing with Article 121, giving EEZ and continental shelf rights to island areas.

Instead, the country has followed its own rules, adjusting them as it pleases, to avoid giving any rights to island areas.

Besides seeking to reinforce the country’s position that rejects any EEZ rights for islands, the latest Turkish moves also aim to cancel EEZ agreements signed by Cyprus with Egypt, Israel and Lebanon.

Turkey has unsuccessfully sought to sign an EEZ agreement with Egypt, during Muslim Brotherhood times.

Dr. Nikolaou predicts that there will be no Turkish movement south of Crete as the transfer of an area by Libya, Turkey’s regional partner, would be required. The area of Benghazi is not controlled by Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s UN-recognized government, but by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar.

Ultimately, the Turkish strategy in the wider region is aiming for co-exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits that may be discovered.

Chevron buys Noble Energy, US striving for regional control

Energy corporation Chevron has become the latest American giant, following ExxonMobil, to establish itself in the east Mediterranean upstream market following a five billion-dollar acquisition of Noble Energy, a deal that adds the gigantic Leviathan gas field in Israel’s EEZ to the California-based buyer’s portfolio and elevates the petroleum group into a dominant regional player.

This latest development highlights America’s strategy for the region, aiming to establish US control of production at new gas fields as well as supply to Europe, analysts noted.

Chevron’s acquisition of Noble Energy, highlighting the upstream industry’s elevated interest in the east Mediterranean, comes amid increased regional tension prompted by Turkish provocation. Greece’s neighbor has just sent a seismic survey vessel into Greek waters for hydrocarbon exploration activities.

Besides the Leviathan gas field’s recoverable reserves, estimated at 22 trillion cubic feet, the Chevron portfolio now also takes on Israel’s Tamar field, whose gas reserves are estimated at 7.1 trillion cubic feet.

Noble has proved reserves of 2.05 billion barrels of oil and gas to add to Chevron’s reported 11.4 billion.

Chevron, whose earnings in 2019 reached 139.9 billion euros, also adds to its assets, totaling 237.4 billion dollars, the Aphrodite gas field, situated within the Cypriot EEZ and estimated to hold 4.5 trillion cubic feet. Noble Energy is among this field’s operators.

Chevron’s control of the Leviathan gas field also secures American influence over the EastMed gas pipeline planned by Israel, Cyprus and Greece.

Fellow American petroleum giant ExxonMobil recently discovered, within the Cypriot EEZ, the Glafkos gas field, estimated to carry between 5 and 8 trillion cubic feet of gas. ExxonMobil has also taken on major licenses in Egypt and is also a member of a consortium formed with France’s Total and Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) for licenses at offshore blocks west and southwest of Crete.

 

Energean to acquire Total’s stake in Block 2, offshore Greece

Energean, the oil and gas producer focused on the Mediterranean, has signed an agreement for the acquisition of Total’s stake in Block 2, offshore Western Greece, providing further material exploration opportunities in its core area of the Eastern Mediterranean with limited financial exposure, the company has announced.

The deal further enhances the future growth potential of Energean’s portfolio and medium-term optionality to deliver value to all stakeholders, the company noted. 

On completion, Energean would acquire Total’s entire 50% Working Interest share and Operatorship. Energean’s net remaining expenditure towards satisfaction of the minimum work obligation, which includes 1800km of 2D seismic acquisition and processing – activity which Energean believes could significantly de-risk the prospectivity of the licence – is approximately €0.5 million. Energean believes this is a highly attractive transaction in the context of the early stage prospectivity identified on the Block.

Work to date on the licence has identified that Block 2 contains part of a large, potential target comprising of a four-way closure at the Top Jurassic Apulia platform. The prospect is thought to be an analogue to the Vega field offshore Italy, in which Edison E&P operates with a 60% working interest. The structure is covered by sparse 2D seismic which could be de-risked through the seismic programme that will be acquired as part of the minimum work programme.

The feature straddles the Greek and Italian maritime border with approximately 60% of the prospect within the Block 2 license with the remaining area part in Italian waters. Edison E&P, of which Energean expects to complete its acquisition during 1H 2020, as well as holding a 25% Working Interest in Block 2 also participates in the adjacent 84F.R-EL block offshore Italy, pending award. Post completion of the Edison E&P transaction, Energean will then own a 75% Working Interest in Block 2. Hellenic Petroleum owns the remaining 25% Working Interest.