Eastern Mediterranean Energy Geopolitics – 2023 Outlook


Since the early 2000s, the Eastern Mediterranean region has been discussed more frequently in energy geopolitics, especially because of the discoveries of significant natural gas reserves in its offshore area. However, this is a region of strategic and vital significance that should not be limited to the “presence” of hydrocarbon resources. “Approximately 30% of world trade (all traded goods) and 20% of oil trade by seas passes through the Mediterranean basin (which includes the Eastern Mediterranean region). On average, 4,000 cargo and merchant ships navigate the Mediterranean every day. Every year, approximately 40,000 Russian merchant ships pass through the Turkish Straits to the Mediterranean Sea.” 65% of Russian and 80% of Turkish foreign trade takes place via the Mediterranean. “…Within this geostrategic importance, Cyprus, due to its proximity to oil and natural gas resources and the Suez Canal, one of the three gateways into and out of the Mediterranean, is at a point where British military bases and American ‘early intervention’ and listening stations are deployed to ‘monitor’ the security of energy and international trade in the region.” [1]

Strategic Importance of the Eastern Mediterranean Basin

In addition to the importance of proven and probable hydrocarbon reserves, the basin is also highly strategic as an international maritime transportation route. An average of 5 million barrels of oil (crude oil and products) is transported annually both in the north-south and south-north directions through the Suez Canal, which opens to the Eastern Mediterranean basin. Moreover, oil and LNG transported through the Turkish Straits and the Strait of Gibraltar (in both directions) also pass through the Mediterranean (and Eastern Mediterranean) basin. Hence, the region is critical for the security of energy supply (for both exporting and importing countries) on the one hand, and vulnerable to various risks in the long transportation route on the other. The Eastern Mediterranean energy geopolitics is shaped on the basis of the combination of the interests of all these parties (exporters, importers as well as transit countries) and is therefore of critical/strategic importance not only for the regional states and littoral states, but also for global actors.

In the process of evaluating the region in terms of energy, it would be very wrong, or at least imperfect, to make an analysis based solely on oil and natural gas and to formulate a strategy accordingly. In these days when the winds of “energy transformation” are blowing strongly, an analysis focused on renewable energy resources (of the region) is as important and necessary as fossil fuel-oriented analyses. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the amount of electricity that could be generated from the oceans is more than double the world’s current electricity consumption. Emerging ocean energy technologies have emerged as a very important resource that will make a significant contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation and creating a sustainable energy future that reduces the risk of climate change. The main ocean energy technologies currently under development and not yet (sufficiently) commercialized are as follows:

1) Wave energy, 2) Tidal energy, 3) Salinity gradient energy and 4) Ocean thermal energy transformation. [1]In addition, it should also be underlined that there is a high solar energy potential in our seas and especiallyin the area of our claimed maritime borders[2] in the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

Türkiye’s Eastern Mediterranean Strategy, which, in my opinion, needs to be reconstructed meticulously, should be shaped based on all these facts. The “West”, especially the EU and the US, not only undermines our hydrocarbon exploration and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also, within the framework of the policy described as the “Sevilla University map”, tries to confine Turkey to the narrow area in and around the Gulf of Iskenderun and its vicinity in all its activities, unlawfully and impudently. To give a concrete example, in a presentation at the METU Alumni Association, the President of the Offshore Wind Energy Association of Turkey, Dr. Murat Durak presented a map [3] of the wind potential in an area identified abstractively (!) for Türkiye by the World Bank. This map, just like the Sevilla (University) map, unlawfully drew and published “borders” for Turkey’s Maritime Borders as if it is an authorized institution in international Maritime matters. Similarly, as was shown in Dr. Murat Durak’s presentation, the same violations of international law (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea-UNCLOS) were shown in another report[4] published by the European Commission (which also has no authority) on Nov. 19, 2020. No need to say, it is totally unacceptable to take for granted these hostile and unjust efforts imposed. The Sevilla map, World Bank map and the EU map all repeat the same unlawful and maximalist claims by the Greek Cypriot Administration and Greek government most probably as a coincidence!

To sum up, the Eastern Mediterranean is not only Türkiye’s strategic gateway to the world through the Mediterranean, but also a vital basin that is not limited to the potential of hydrocarbon resources and their transportation routes, but also contains the potential for renewable energy resources that will make a critical contribution to the energy transformation of our country in the coming decades. To the significance of hydrocarbon resources in the region and the strategic importance as a critical transportation route; if we add our indispensable Cyprus case which is located at the center of the Eastern Mediterranean, and the potential of our seabed minerals and food resources that our seas (within our Maritime Borders) harbor, we can comprehend that the concept of “Blue Homeland” is not an “imperial adventure” but a national right and obligation for our present and future generations.

Energy Potential of Eastern Mediterranean

To date, the most comprehensive studies on the energy potential of the region have been conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS), and these studies have focused on the hydrocarbon potential, for reasons I have emphasized at the outset. According to this report, the potential amount of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean is estimated at 8.1 trillion cubic meters[1]. While this is equivalent to about 4% of the world’s proven gas reserves[2] (206.7 trillion cubic meters of total world proven gas reserves at the end of 2022), it is not a game changer in the global context that has been exaggerated to date. However, these resources have great importance for the region and will contribute significantly if developed rationally and in a peaceful and just manner. Especially for Israel and Egypt, it’s contribution is obvious and vital. The crude oil and natural gas liquids (NGL) potential for the 8 basins studied is estimated at 879 million barrels and 2.2 billion barrels, respectively. World proven oil reserves (World Energy Review 2023 – Oil; ENI) are given as 1,746 billion barrels.

Natural Gas Reserves and Activities of Littoral States

The Eastern Mediterranean riparian states are Türkiye, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.[3] Greece, despite all its unlawful and maximalist claims, is not an Eastern Mediterranean littoral state. In the Eastern Mediterranean basin, the most significant hydrocarbon discoveries to date have been made in the Israeli and Egyptian offshore fields. Israel’s major fields are Leviathan (623 billion cubic meters of reserves) and Tamar (314 billion cubic meters). There are also fields with even smaller reserves such as Tarish, Kanin, Mari B. Egypt’s largest discovery is the Zohr field with 850 billion cubic meters. Other sites include the West Nile Delta sites, Atoll, Nooros, Noor and South West Baltim. As a result of its exploration and drilling activities in areas where the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has equal rights and in violation of international law, the South Cyprus Greek Administration (SCGA) performed illegal exploration and drilling activities and announced discoveries in Aphrodite (124 billion cubic meters), Glaucos (156 billion cubic meters), Cronos (71 billion m3), Zeus (71 billion m3) and Calypso (181 billion m3) fields.[4] In these discoveries; US companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron) and European companies (ENI, Total) in particular, provide political as well as technical and economic support to the SCGA. The TRNC has equal rights for every cubic meter of these discoveries within the scope of the 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots’ practice of using these discoveries as a “stick-and-carrot” tactic must be invalidateddiplomatically and within the framework of international law.

The SCGA continues to negotiate with the shareholder companies in these fields in order to increase the limited reserves on the basis of the existing fields with new drilling and possible discoveries on the one hand, and to produce and export them unilaterally on the other. Chevron (US), a 35% shareholder and operator in the Aphrodite field, proposed an export plan to the SCGA, but this proposal was not accepted, mainly for commercial reasons. Negotiations are ongoing. Another partner in the project is Shell (UK-Netherlands). The companies’ proposal involves the transportation of the produced gas to Shell’s gas processing plants in Egypt via a pipeline laid on the seabed and exported to Egypt. The Italian company ENI, which is the shareholder and operator of the Cronos field, is expected to propose a similar project. In the short term (despite the Zohr discovery), the companies seem to be targeting the Egyptian market[1], whose gas demand is growing rapidly, especially in view of the expected long-term contraction in the European natural gas market. The option of (combined) export of Israeli gas via the island of Cyprus is considered unrealizable for various reasons, including Israel’s “security” perception and policies.

Summing up

    • The “stick and carrot” policy that the SCGA and Greece are trying to carry out over the Aphrodite, Calypso, Glaucos, Cronos and Zeus discoveries in the south of the island brings not a solution, but insolvency. Unilateral bidding rounds and activities are against UNCLOS. As was rightly put by the then EU Minister of UK Alan Duncan, “The Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus[2] is a disputed area,” “…The position of the United Kingdom is that, according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, exploratory drilling cannot be conducted in any area in which the sovereignty is disputed.”[3] The existence of equal rights of the TRNC in these fields should be constantly emphasized with every opportunity in the international arena.
    • It would be beneficial for Türkiye and TRNC to establish a joint working group that brings together all relevant disciplines (engineering, energy, economics, law, security, international relations, communication, etc.) to formulate a joint energy policy.
    • In order to transform the unilateral virtual and unlawful ground created by the Greek and Greek Cypriot sides with the support of the EU and the US in favor of Türkiye and the TRNC, this working group should make continuous (written and visual) publications (DEGS example), organize international conferences, etc. and use the virtual environment effectively.
    • A new policy and strategy based on mutual benefit should be adopted with the littoral As we have insistently emphasized for years, Türkiye should use the advantage of having 2 seismic research vessels (Barbaros Hayreddin, Oruç Reis) and 4 deep-water drill ships (Fatih, Yavuz, Kanuni, Abdülhamid Han) and emphasize joint exploration, field development and gas export policies with the littoral countries. In an environment where Greece’s Energean holds a 100% stake in Israel’s Karish and Tanin fields, this step should be taken urgently. In this context, it is crucial that the official announcements of “joint drilling with Israel” move from rhetoric to action as soon as possible.
    • The most commercially attractive option for the export of Israeli natural gas (from the point of view/for the benefit of Israel and the companies involved) is the export (pipeline) option to Türkiye and via Türkiye to Europe. For example, in a recent Columbia University study[1], the delivery costs at the point of export (excluding the cost of gas production) of the various export options are shown as follows:

  • Therefore, in order for this option (Pipeline to Türkiye) to be not only strategically but also economically attractive for Türkiye, both Israel and the shareholder companies in fields such as Leviathan and Tamar will need “creative” approaches by the Israeli side and related companies to convince Turkey. These approaches could include the offering of re-exporting some of the gas imported by Türkiye, and/or providing price and other concessions to compete with Türkiye’s other gas import contracts which have more advantageous terms compared to an Israeli proposal because of the cost of production, constructing the pipeline and additional costs. Otherwise, apart from its political/strategic contribution, this line will have no commercial appeal for Türkiye. The BTC Crude Oil Pipeline is a case in point. For this pipeline to be attractive for Türkiye, a branch should be extended to Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) to supply this State directly.
  • The fact that the agreements signed between the SCGA and the other littoral states have caused serious EEZ losses to those littoral states is another argument that should be emphasized in Türkiye’s negotiations with Egypt, Israel and Lebanon. For example, Egypt has lost an EEZ of 21,500 square kilometers by accepting the SCGA’s unfair and illegal thesis. Although the Egyptian government is aware of this, political problems with Türkiye have prevented Türkiye from acting together with Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean in line with our common interests. This situation can be reversed with a rational cooperation in the energy field and putting the energy security concerns in front of political divergences.
  • Lebanon has similarly lost an EEZ of 3,957 square kilometers. Cooperation with Lebanon in the field of exploration and drilling, using the advantage of our seismic research and deep-water drilling vessels, will be another step that can bring Türkiye, which has been isolated in the Eastern Mediterranean, to the forefront.
  • Following the agreement with the Libyan government, which is “recognized as legitimate by the UN”, relations with the “legitimate” Syrian government should also be improved by Türkiye. Regional developments also make it necessary and beneficial for Türkiye’s national interests to act in this direction.
  • Eastern Mediterranean energy resources will not be a game changer in the global scale. The gas demand in the EU, which is one of the most significant markets targeted currently will be decreasing in the coming decades. Energy transition (increasing share of renewables in the energy mix, demand side management, etc.) is another reason for the squeezing demand for natural gas. The proven and probable resources of the Eastern Mediterranean however is vital for the littoral States. Therefore, cooperation for regional energy security should be given priority. This is what common sense and responsibility dictates us.

  1. Mustafa Ergün Olgun, Kıbrıs’ta Son Söz Söylenmedi Paneli, TBB Publications, 327
  2. “Blue Economy” and Ocean Energy; Necdet Pamir, Bütün Dünya, June 2021
  3. The term includes both the Continental Shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone
  5. An EU Strategy to harness the potential of offshore renewable energy for a climate neutral future
  6. Assessment of Undiscovered Conventional Oil and Gas Resources in the Eastern Mediterranean Area, 2020, First posted July 8, 2021 and revised July 10, 2021 (https://doi.org/10.3133/fs20213032)
  7. https://www.eni.com/assets/documents/eng/topic/global-energy-scenarios/world-energy-review/2023/03_GAS.pdf) (from the annual World Energy Statistics report of the Italian company ENI)
  8. Palestine is not included in this ranking as it is not yet officially recognized by the UN. A similar is true for the TRNC. The GASC is called the “Republic of Cyprus”, contrary to international law and EU legislation. The TRNC has equal rights to every inch of the island’s soil and maritime area with the SCGA based on London and Zurich Agreements (1959) and the Constitution of Cyprus Republic of 1960.
  9. Since not enough appraisal wells have been drilled and not enough tests have been conducted in these discoveries in the south of the island of Cyprus, the reserve figures given are very rough estimates. Most of the time, they are speculative statements
  10. They are also trying to use this option as a negotiation position against Türkiye for a possible export option through Türkiye (Israel – Türkiye Gas Pipeline if Cyprus island gas would also be involved).
  11. This is their interpretation that we do not accept based on 1959 London and Zurich Agreements as well as the 1960 Republic of Cyprus’ Convention.
  12. “Keep Talking Greece”, May 15, 2019
  13. Eastern Mediterranean Deep-water Gas to Europe: Not Too Little, But Perhaps Too Late; March 2023, Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia

Necdet Pamir

Necdet Pamir worked at Türkiye Petrolleri Anonim Ortaklığı for 25 years, holding positions from engineer to project manager. He also served as the Group Manager for Petroleum Transportation and Marketing and was an Assistant General Manager from 1995 to 1996. He represented TPAO at the Prime Ministry Pipeline Coordination Board during this time. Pamir has published numerous articles, interviews, and books in both Turkish and English and has been a speaker at various conferences. He is a member of the Turkish National Committee of the World Energy Council and held roles within the Republican People’s Party (CHP) from 2002 to 2005. Currently, he is the General Coordinator at the Eurasian Strategic Research Center (ASAM).

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