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Turkish Warships Threaten Gas Exploration In Cyprus

Tensions between Turkey and Cyprus have threatened the exploration of offshore natural gas reserves in Cypriot waters, as Turkish warships have moved in to occupy an area previously found to be rich with gas.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered the warships to accompany a Turkish seismic ship called Piri Reis, which is exploring gas reserves in Mediterranean waters. The conflict arises due to an encroachment by Turkey into an area owned by Cyprus, which looks positive for gas reserves. The seismic ship, Piri Reis is exploring in an area that overlaps with that of Noble Energy Inc. which is exploring in the Cypriot waters.

The situation may affect the exploration and excavation of gas from the area which has some of the largest gas fields in Europe. The offshore area known as the Levant Basin is a triangular area located in the Mediterranean Sea, located between Cyprus and Israel. The gas reserves in the basin are estimated at around 122 trillion cubic feet.

The Cypriot government, which granted the first exploration licence to Noble in 2008, authorized the first drilling in the area last month. Noble began operations in the area on 18 September, prompting Turkey to take action.

Turkey does not recognise the Cypriot government as a valid one and refuses to acknowledge the country as a sovereign state. Turkey has further sought to gain a stronghold in the area by allying itself with nearby Egypt, where drilling is currently taken place.

Prime Minister Erdoğan ordered the occupation of the waters in retaliation to what he called “provocation” by the Cypriot government. He has also threatened to boycott any oil or gas companies that are found to be working with Cyprus.

The occupation of the area by Turkish gunboats places an extra strain on the already uneasy relationship between Turkey and Cyprus. Turkey’s tensions with Israel will also be frustrated by the move, as Noble intends to start gas production in that country next year.

Natural Gas Europe, 10 October 2011