ExxonMobil drillship nearing for Cyprus venture amid heightened tension

US energy giant ExxonMobil, in a collaborative effort with Qatar Petroleum, is preparing to launch exploratory drills at Block 10 in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) amid heightened military activity in the region.

Hydrocarbon experts have increased the likelihood of Block 10, southwest of Cyprus, carrying significant reserves.

An ExxonMobil drillship, Stena Icemax, capable of drilling in water depth up to 3,000 meters, embarked on its cross-Atlantic journey on October 29 and is reportedly scheduled to arrive at Limassol port on November 12, where personnel for the drilling venture will board the vessel before it heads out to Block 10 to commence work.

A Navtex international automated warning system, whose applications include global maritime distress safety, has been programmed by Cyprus to monitor parts of the island nation’s EEZ areas concerning the upcoming drills.

Turkey has heightened its mobilization in the wider region, suggesting it will bargain hard to promote its hydrocarbon interests in the wider Middle East region.

Less than a fortnight ago, Turkish naval forces accompanied the neighboring country’s Barbaros survey vessel within Cypriot EEZ territory and, in addition, have also joined the Turkish drillship Porthitis (Fatih) for deep-sea drilling operations north of Cyprus, reported to have begun.

The upcoming exploration work and possible hydrocarbon production in the Cypriot EEZ could change the Cypriot balance. The Turkish occupation of the island’s north has prevented Cyprus from utilizing its natural wealth since the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974.

Crucial times for Cyprus’s hydrocarbon aspirations

Cyprus’s hydrocarbon aspirations face a crucial test this week as, firstly, ongoing research will determine whether needed additional deposits exist and, secondly, activities planned for the next few days should indicate how far Turkey is prepared to take its reactions.

The West Capella drilling ship hired by a consortium comprised of Total and Eni is scheduled to reach Block 11 in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) at 3am on Wednesday morning and prepare to start work within 24 hours.

This initiative represents part of a new and ambitious exploration drive that is expected to take about one year to complete.

The findings will be of pivotal importance as they will determine the possible existence and size of hydrocarbon deposits at Block 11, which would emerge as an addition to the deposit already discovered at Block 12. Estimates and forecasts only have real value if confirmed by drilling efforts. All is possible. The result could be an utter disappointment or a major future-altering discovery for the island is also possible.

The endeavor will also test Turkey’s true capacity for reaction, beyond its regular cast of verbal threats, against major international petroleum powerhouses that have acquired rights to Cypriot blocks and are gradually making progress to begin work.

Four drilling endeavors have taken place within Cyprus’s EEZ over the past seven years. Two of these were carried out by US firm Noble Energy, at Block 12, and two by Italy’s Eni, at Block 9.

The deposit discovered within Block 12, dubbed Aphrodite, may have provided momentum to Cyprus’s overall hydrocarbon drive, but its quantity, alone, is not sufficient to make the development of gas storage and transmission projects sustainable. The discovery of a new deposit is crucial as it could provide the additional hydrocarbon quantity that is needed to make such investments worth pursuing.

The discovery of Zohr, a gigantic deposit in Egypt’s maritime zone, has turned the attention of major petroleum firms to Cyprus. France’s Total has joined forces with Italy’s Eni to explore Blocks 11 and 6, while Eni has acquired exclusive rights for Block 8.

Also, the world’s largest oil and gas company ExxonMobil, until recently led by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has been joined by another industry giant, Qatar Petroleum, for the rights to explore Cyprus’s Block 10.

The upcoming hydrocarbon exploration endeavors planned for Cyprus have been made more complicated by the breakdown, just days ago, of latest UN-backed Cyprus talks in search of a reunification deal.

Reacting to previous exploration endeavors around Cyprus, Turkey has responded in a standard way, sending a seismic vessel into Cypriot EEZ waters, accompanied by at least one frigate monitoring from a distance. Turkish reaction will certainly not be missing this time either, and could well be stronger following the recent collapse of the Cyprus reunification talks. Just how far Turkey is prepared to go remains to be seen.