As the deadline for offshore oil and gas exploration licensing in the waters around divided Cyprus -- launched by the Greek Cypriot administration on behalf of the whole island -- rapidly approaches, Ankara has intensified its moves in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus.
Turkey's move has been interpreted by many as a show of its determination to protect its rights and interests in the region when faced with the unilateral Greek Cypriot move vis-à-vis the exploration.
While the Greek Cypriot administration plans to issue exploration permits for a 70,000 square kilometer sea area south of the island later this year, with the last date for submission of expressions of interest on Aug. 16, the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), which opened in May a tender for oil and gas exploration in a 4,000-kilometer area in the eastern Mediterranean, will continue accepting bids until the end of August.
TPAO has determined 13 exploration blocks lying on Turkey's continental shelf along the Mediterranean coast and has recently been given license by the government to start studies in four of these blocks. One of these blocks corresponds to one of the 11 exploration blocks determined within the tender for the acquisition of seismic data launched in February by the Greek Cypriot administration.
Announcements by the Directorate-General for Petroleum Affairs (PİGM) concerning TPAO's petitions for four of these blocks in the Antalya Basin, beyond Turkey's territorial waters, were published in Wednesday's Official Gazette.
Following the finalization of the tender procedures, ships to be sent to the same area by Turkey and the Greek Cypriot administrations are likely to meet each other, thus waters in the eastern Mediterranean will most probably heat up with this war of nerves between Turkey and the Greek Cypriot administration. As of Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Levent Bilman, speaking to reporters at a weekly press briefing, referred to TPAO's ongoing studies and expressed Turkey's determination to protect its rights and interests in the eastern Mediterranean region.
"Turkey believes that it will be useful to once again bring to mind that attempts by the Greek Cypriot administration to delineate the sea boundaries cannot be accepted and that Turkey also has legitimate rights and authorities in sea basins in west of the Cyprus island starting from the longitude 32° 16' 18''," Bilman said and noted that Turkey had declared this fact back in March 1994 in a letter sent to the UN which was later published as a UN document.
Greek Cyprus is supposed to offer successful applicants exclusive exploration rights over the exploration blocks. If a commercial discovery is made, production would be shared between the licensee and Greek Cyprus under a production sharing contract.
Greek Cyprus signed accords with Egypt in 2005 and Lebanon this year, delineating the sea boundaries between them and the limits of its continental shelf. Nevertheless, according to international law, the sea boundaries between the countries and the limits of the continental shelf of each country need to be delineated via a consensus among all coastal and neighboring countries when the issue is a semi-closed sea like the East Mediterranean. The interest in the Greek Cypriot tender from international companies has gradually declined, with only around five companies currently running for the bid, while more than 20 companies gradually withdrew their applications, reliable sources told Today's Zaman.
Meanwhile, a senior TPAO official recently said that the tender from Turkey has been attracting strong interest from international companies.
Ankara believes that the country's fast-growing demand for energy in an expanding economy and stable market, as well as its progression of aggressive market liberalization aligned with the accession process to the European Union, are advantageous for international companies and joint ventures. In the case of joint ventures, TPAO pledges to provide regional expertise and a technical background as a partner.
The Greek Cypriot administration had raised objections to Turkey's plans to carry out exploration for oil in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus, saying it would violate international law. Nonetheless, Ankara asserts that the Greek Cypriot administration claims to be representing the entire island and it is insisting on moving ahead with this tender, despite warnings from the Turkish Cypriot side as well as from Turkey.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 10 Ağustos 2007, 10:36