Turkish protests against a joint oil and gas exploration deal between Egypt, Lebanon, and Cyprus in the Mediterranean waters surrounding the island nation drew further criticism from Nicosia Wednesday.
Speaking on Cypriot State Radio, Minister of Commerce Antonis Michaelides said Cyprus should have the freedom as a member of the European Union and the United nations to “defend its statehood.”
“There is no country in the world, apart from Turkey, that does not consider the actions of the Cyprus Republic as proper and in compliance with international law,” Michaelides said.
Turkey’s objections came as news began to surface about the imminent launch of oil exploration projects off the coasts of Cyprus, the northern third of which has been claimed by Turkey since 1974 in defiance to the United Nations. Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said this week his government has the right to potentially large
oil reserves off its coast.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the government is “determined to protect its rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and will not allow attempts to erode them.”
As of press time, Egyptian Foreign and Oil Ministry officials were unavailable for comment.
An official from Shell Egypt, who owns the majority rights to the North East Mediterranean Deepwater (Nemed) block also declined to comment. Nemed, about the size of the Netherlands, is the northern-most Egyptian oil exploration area, lying along the internationally-recognized mid-water border with Cyprus.
Shell operates most of its drills in the southern region of the block where the water is shallower, yielding lower drilling costs.
In June, 2006, Shell announced plans to explore the Northern waters of the block by the end of the year, but the company is yet to report its progress. Water depth in northern Nemed reaches as much as 2,000 to 3,000 m., commanding drilling costs in the tens of millions of dollars according to analyst estimates.
Magdi Sobhy, economist at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies says the Egyptian Government’s decision to sign a 2006 agreement to delineate the underwater border with Cyprus to paving the way for joint oil exploration, indicates potential finds in the Mediterranean could prove large enough to risk heightening tensions with Turkey over the issue.
“The ability of large corporations have significantly developed their abilities to explore in deep waters,” Sobhy told The Daily Star Egypt. “If there is enough oil in the disputed area, the [Egyptian] government might consider capitalizing on the economic benefit first and resolving the issue with the Turkish government later on.”
British Petroleum, the largest sector investor in Egypt with about 40 percent market share, and the Ministry of Petroleum announced Wednesday the discovery of 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas 56 km. north of Alexandria at 668 m. under water.
The amount tapped represents about half of Egypt’s entire annual consumption. Sobhy says the discovery should fuel further exploration despite the high costs associated with deep-water drilling.