Cyprus has hailed a significant discovery of natural gas offshore, highlighting the Mediterranean island’s prospective role as an alternative source of energy to Europe.
Amid rising tensions over hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean, the US energy giant ExxonMobil announced that deep-water drilling south of the coastal city of Limassol had yielded “encouraging results”, described by Cypriot officials as exceeding all expectations.
The news came as Turkey embarked on its biggest-ever naval exercise in the region, a show of force aimed at reinforcing its own right to energy exploration off the divided island.
“This is the biggest discovery so far in Cyprus’s exclusive economic [maritime] zone and, based on official data, one of the biggest worldwide in the last two years,” the energy minister Georgios Lakkotrypis told a news conference in Nicosia.
Although exploration on a first well had not produced signs of exploitable deposits, a second well known as Glafcos 1 had produced “an excellent quality” of resource, he said.
Between approximately 5tn and 8tn cubic feet of natural gas resources had been found, he said. “The results demonstrate the potential of our EEZ because it is a high-quality reserve,” the minister added, insisting that Cyprus could become an alternative source of energy for the European Union, allowing it to reduce its reliance on Russia for natural gas.
Along with Qatar Petroleum, its partner, ExxonMobil had been conducting exploration drilling off the island since November last year. Gasfields were first found in waters off Cyprus in 2011 but “Block 10,” the area assigned to the two companies, is believed to be by far the most promising.
The US energy giant’s British vice-president, Tony Asprey, who spoke of the discovery after informing president Nicos Anastasiades, said the company would spend the coming months pursuing further analysis of the findings to assess their full potential.
“We are very encouraged by the results we have seen in the well and we’ll be spending the next several months analysing all the data that we have gathered [to] better define the full commercial potential of the resource,” he also told the news conference.
But Cyprus’ newfound place on the regional energy map is not without risk. Political analysts said the offshore wealth could reignite tensions with Turkey, which has taken an increasingly aggressive stance over international oil companies drilling in seas whose ownership it contests.
Ankara has warned it will soon begin its own drilling off the island, divided between a majority Greek population in the south and Turks in the breakaway north since the 1974 Turkish invasion.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has repeatedly warned the five foreign energy firms currently exploring off Cyprus not to “overstep the mark,” arguing that some of its surrounding waters fall within the country’s own jurisdiction.
With talks aimed at reunifying the island at an impasse, revenues from potential reserves remain a major sticking point, with Ankara insisting the subsea riches can only be shared between the two communities once a comprehensive settlement is reached.
Block 10 is adjacent to the huge Zohr gasfield discovered by Egypt in 2015, prompting speculation that the Mediterranean island is floating on massive natural resources.
Determined to pursue exploration, Anastasiades’ government has said it hopes to begin exporting gas – and possibly even oil deposits believed to lie beneath it – by 2022.