Another bonanza has been discovered in a part of the world that is gaining a reputation for blockbuster upstream discoveries. Last week, Cyprus announced a huge natural gas find in Block 10, with ExxonMobil – together with Qatar Petroleum - estimating that the ‘world-class discovery’ potentially holds up to 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
It’s the second major discovery in Cypriot waters in a decade after Aphrodite in 2011, and it may point the way forward for the island’s commercialisation strategy. Development of Aphrodite, and its 4.5 tcf of gas, has been delayed, largely due to the fact that the volumes far exceed domestic requirements but were too small to justify a LNG export terminal. Until now. Coupled with the Block 10 discovery – and promising geology in Block 7, where an operator will be chosen this year - Cyprus may now re-look into the possibility of exporting its natural gas as LNG, rather than greenlighting an export pipeline to Egypt and the LNG plant plans there.
Turkey, predictably, has protested. The island of Cyprus is divided between the internationally-recognised south and the northern breakaway province recognised only by Turkey. The Turkish government claims that all Cypriot waters are disputed as long as the island remains divided, and has occasionally attempted to block drilling activities in southern waters. But with Cyprus moving ahead with plans to become a regional energy powerhouse, Turkey too is looking for treasures. Upstream operations in the Eastern Mediterranean have begun, with test drilling some 60km south of Antalya and plans to drill in areas closer to Cyprus on the assertion that some Cypriot blocks are part of Turkey’s continental shelf.
These drilling activities could cause a stand-off, but the prizes could be great. In the last decade, the Eastern Mediterranean have yielded some amazing upstream finds and all countries have been struck with gold fever. Leading the pack is Egypt, whose massive Zohr discovery by Eni has started commercial production with output set to reach 3.2 bcf/d by end-2020. Initial assessment of Eni’s Nour field in Egypt suggests that it could hold at least 10 tcf of gas, potentially up to 30 tcf. And there is more action taking place – offshore and onshore – in Egypt that could accelerate its flip from being energy-poor to a serious gas superpower.
To the north, Israel has its giant 22tcf Leviathan field, which would see first gas by end 2019, and equally promising finds in the Karish and Tanin fields. The major finds have ‘inspired’ Lebanon to start its own upstream campaign – with a first exploration well planned by Total, Eni and Novatek next year – but Israel already has grumbles over some Lebanese blocks overlapping its own; even though Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations. Greece, too, has its own plans, though its discoveries are more oil thus far, with the Katakalon block expected to start production in 2020. But there could be plenty more, with Greece sanctioning ultra-deepwater explorations near Crete.
There is plenty of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, it seems. But commercialisation is hampered by geopolitical strife. Cyprus and Turkey are at loggerheads. Lebanon and Israel don’t like each other, and Israel’s relationship with Turkey is testy. Egypt seems to be the most accommodating so far, which is why plans to sell East Med gas tend to centre around pipeline infrastructure to Egypt, where idled LNG plants have already restarted. But if the region’s politics could be overcome – and there is always the question mark of Syria – the Mediterranean could become a gas supplier to Europe that will rival Russia. If the countries could get along.
Recent major finds in the Eastern Mediterranean
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