Eastern Mediterranean Offshore Prospects

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Overview

In recent years the Eastern Mediterranean region has been sparking growing interest from international energy firms. Substantial gas reserves have been found in Egypt's Nile Delta Basin and in the Mediterranean coastal areas since 1995, and in 1999 a gas field was found off the Gaza coastline that contained enough reserves to supply Palestinians with power for a decade. The US firm Noble Energy has found gas off the Israeli coast at the second largest field in the world in the past two years and several countries have been announcing the auction of offshore blocks.[1]

The US Geological Survey estimates that the Levant Basin province, where the largest discoveries of Tamar and Leviathan fields were found, contains 122 trillion cubic feet or recoverable gas and around 1.7 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil.[2]

While the reserves available are not huge in relative terms, according to Egyptian political scientist Gawdat Bahgat these reserves could drastically change the region's energy outlook. However it would take several years to exploit the resources and full utilization would depend on agreements on maritime borders and geopolitical considerations.[3]

William Engdhal comments that the discoveries are having enormous political, geopolitical and economic consequences and that they could also have potential military consequences given the political tensions throughout the region.[4]

Impact on Turkish-Cypriot Relations

Cyprus has been exploring for hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean basin and signed agreements with Lebanon and Egypt to delineate exploration boundaries. However the state of Cyprus as a divided island complicates the issue and Turkey has protested that the authorities in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus had not been consulted. Turkey has argued that not exploration should take place until a settlement is reached between the two countries, however the Cypriots have refused to cease activities.[5]

Turkey, for its part, announced in September 2011 that it would send a "research" ship to start oil and gas exploration in the region, with a warship as an escort.[6]

Syria-Lebanon

According to Syria Today, Syria has traditionally lagged behind other countries in the region when it comes to developing its offshore sector. Syria's first offshore licensing round in 2007 only attracted one bid. However Syrian officials believe that the offshore discoveries made in the Mediterranean, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Cyprus will make Syrian blocks more attractive.[1]

In October 2010 Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri said that the country would soon define its offshore boundaries with Syria and move ahead with licensing of exploration blocks, noting that they had experienced some differences with Syria.[7]

Israel

Prior to the discovery of a number of gas fields, Israel had limited energy resources and was highly dependent on suppliers in Russia, Central Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. This was in part because of the reluctance of international oil companies to operate in Israeli waters for fear of antagonizing Arab producers or the Iranian regime. Following the discoveries, Gawdat Bahgat believes that Israel has the potential to transform itself into a gas exporter.[8]

In 2009 Israel’s exploration partner Noble Energy discovered the Tamar field some 50 miles west of the Israeli port of Haifa, with an estimated 8.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas reserves. Tamar was the world’s largest gas discovery in 2009.[6]

It is unknown whether Israel's Tamar and Leviathan fields stretch into the territorial waters of its northern foe Lebanon, however the fields are likely to be part of much bigger potential oil and gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean and so this may be the case. Beirut asked the UN to help mark a temporary sea boundary between Lebanon and Israel, to which the UN agreed and which is being studied by the Israelis. However the task could be difficult due to mutual mistrust and the complicated geography of the coastline.

Time magazine suggests that the potential fossil-fuel wealth off the Israeli and Lebanese coastline could turn the Mediterranean into a potential theatre of conflict once again between the Israelis and Hezbollah, as the Lebanese group are trained in underwater sabotage and coastal infiltrations. The Israeli navy reportedly presented to the government a maritime security plan costing between $40 million and $70 million to defend the gas fields.[9]


References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Global Gas Steady as She GoesSyria Today, April 2010.
  2. Major gas province emerging in eastern MediterraneanOffshore, retrieved 14 March 2012.
  3. Israel's Energy Security: Regional ImplicationsMiddle East Policy Council, 2012.
  4. The New Mediterranean Oil and Gas BonanzaGlobal Research, 2012.
  5. Cyprus: Oil, Gas and GeopoliticsPetroleum Economist, 5 January 2009.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Cyprus Is Latest Offshore Flashpoint For DrillingE&P, 19 September 2011.
  7. Lebanon setting offshore boundaries for oil -PMReuters, 21 October 2010.
  8. Israel's Energy Security: Regional ImplicationsMiddle East Policy Council, 2012.
  9. The Next Big Lebanon-Israel Flare-Up: GasTime, 6 April 2011.


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