US energy giant ExxonMobil plans to conduct its first offshore drilling venture at block 12 in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) within the next few weeks as part of its hydrocarbon exploration effort in the region, sparking fears of renewed Greek-Turkish tension. An ExxonMobil survey vessel is scheduled to arrive at the block on September 28.
Though Greek-Turkish tension has deescalated in recent times, the exploratory work planned by ExxonMobil, as well as France’s Total, in Cypriot waters, could spark new tension between the neighbors, pundits believe.
Regardless of the ongoing developments concerning Turkey’s economic crisis, the upcoming exploration work and possible hydrocarbon production in the Cypriot EEZ could change the Cypriot balance, which has prevented Cyprus from utilizing its natural wealth since the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974. Turkey will most likely be prepared to use force to prevent Cyprus from utilizing this anticipated wealth.
Turkey has already sent a drillship and four support vessels to the Mediterranean to start the country’s first deep-sea drilling operations. There are concerns that tensions in the region could flare up if the Turkish vessel, Porthitis (Fatih), begins drilling off the coast of Cyprus, where Nicosia has already granted exploration licenses to foreign companies.
Turkey says it will prevent Cyprus from searching for gas and oil off its coast if Turkish Cypriots are not included in the process.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey reached breaking point in February after Turkish warships prevented a rig of Italian energy giant ENI from drilling in block 3 of Cyprus’s EEZ.
US officials have asked Ankara to keep away from ten areas and also urged for a Turkish commitment ensuring smooth proceedings in the exploratory work planned within the Cypriot EEZ.
“Naturally, in diplomacy, you name 10 areas so that the other side may back away from some of these,” one pundit told energypress.
Any normalization of Greek-Turkish relations will be temporary and restricted to this week’s repatriation of two Greek soldiers who were released from a Turkish prison following months of captivity, pundits have stressed. The normalization is not a long-term condition, they noted, citing the upcoming hydrocarbon exploration plans in Cyprus’s EEZ.