Exploratory drilling for oil and gas has begun in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Energy Service director Solon Kassinis said, launching a new dawn of energy exploration and a possible regional crisis. As the drill reportedly broke ground last Sunday, Turkey threatened to send gunships to protect its own planned exploratory work off the island’s northern coastline.
The government remained tight-lipped on the latest developments in its Aphrodite offshore field, also known as Block 12. But the outspoken Kassinis was quoted by Cyprus News Agency (CNA) and Reuters as saying that American company Noble Energy had begun drilling late on Sunday night to explore and exploit the country’s underwater natural resources. The energy chief said drilling takes place on a 24-hour basis and that so far everything was proceeding normally.
“It started late on Sunday. It’s preparatory work, yes, but the procedure for drilling has started,” he told Reuters, adding that the process will be completed in 73 days. The ubiquitous Kassinis also told Associated Press (AP) that workers on a Noble rig have already drilled 80 metres beneath the seabed about 185 kilometres off the southern coast. Meanwhile, David Larson, vice president of investor relations at Noble told Reuters that the Houston-based company is expected to begin drilling “within days, certainly within a week, depending on how long it takes to prepare the rig”.
Noble has partnered with Israeli company Delek for oil and gas explorations in Israel’s offshore fields, including the energy-rich Leviathan which neighbours Cyprus’ Aphrodite field. Delek and Avner companies each have an option for 15 per cent of the rights in Block 12, subject to approval by the Cyprus government. According to CNA, Noble personnel were transported by helicopter yesterday morning to the Homer Ferrington oil rig, situated in Block 12, from a helicopter pad at Limassol port. DIKO spokesman Fotis Fotiou rushed to hail the start of drilling, describing Sunday as a “historic” day, while opposition DISY spokesman Haris Georgiades said the party would not comment on press reports. Ruling AKEL’s Andros Kyprianou said: “We are exercising our sovereign rights, as provided in the UN Charter.”
Keeping tensions high, Turkey said it could provide naval escorts for vessels working on oil and gas exploration off Cyprus’ northern coastline. Turkey has threatened to sign a pact with the breakaway state in the north delineating its continental shelf should Cyprus go ahead with drilling. In response, DISY leader Nicos Anastassiades said yesterday: “An illegality does not create a fait accompli through new illegalities.”
Before leaving Istanbul for New York, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan berated Israel, Greece and Cyprus for delineating their own EEZs in “disputed areas”, saying Turkey will do the same. Turkish aircraft, frigates and torpedo boats would continuously watch over the eastern Mediterranean, he added. Erdogan said exploration work could start off northern Cyprus “in a very short time, possibly this week”. In Ankara, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz warned that Turkish warships could escort seismic survey vessels in the Mediterranean unless the Cyprus government halted Noble’s plans to drill for gas.
“Oil exploration platforms would follow but we don’t want it to come to that,” he added. “The drilling work that the Greek Cypriots will conduct… is a provocation,” he told media. “We want the Greek Cypriots to halt the work with Noble immediately.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly told Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the island’s recognised government had a right to decide how it exploits its resources.
Unnamed officials present during the meeting in New York told AP that Clinton passed on the message to her Turkish counterpart that the best way to sort out the problems related to energy and economic development was by finally ending the 37-year standoff. The EU repeated its call yesterday for Turkey to “refrain from any kind of threat or sources of friction or action which could negatively affect the good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of border disputes”.
On Sunday, Christofias told a Cypriot audience in London that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots were “clamouring needlessly” over gas exploration, saying it would take another year until experts can determine the quality of the deposits and the feasibility of extracting them. “If they truly want to jointly exploit this sea borne treasure that nature granted us, they have to seriously sit at the negotiating table,” he said. “If and when the Cyprus problem is solved, we will share this gift.”