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Mediterranean gas expected to fuel efforts to bring Cyprus sides together

ŞEYMA ERAZ - ELIF BINICI
ISTANBUL
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An Israeli natural gas drilling platform in the Mediterranean. The normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel proposes the transfer of Mediterranean gas to Europe through Turkey.
An Israeli natural gas drilling platform in the Mediterranean. The normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel proposes the transfer of Mediterranean gas to Europe through Turkey.

The ample amount of gas reserve in the Eastern Mediterranean provides an incentive to ensure a definite resolution to the protracted peace talks between Northern and Southern Cyprus

Located in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus - the third largest and most populated island in the region - staged a prolonged political conflict over the 20th century, which has also extended to the present day. However, the recent series of negotiations that started at the beginning of this week in Geneva have increased the hopes of both politicians and the island's Turkish and Greek communities of the promise of a unified country. After decades of talks to ensure some kind of peace on the island and to create a unified Cyprus, what has happened this time that has instilled so much hope for the parties involved? Let us name it for you: the huge natural gas potential in the Mediterranean Sea.

Experts believe this new opportunity in the region, which requires the two communities to act together to benefit from it, might actually create huge economic benefits and make peace a reality. Currently, the island is divided into two states: Northern Cyprus, ruled by Turks, and Southern Cyprus, which is known as the Republic of Cyprus and is the recognized state in the international arena. Since 1974 when the Republic of Turkey launched a military offensive in an attempt to support Turkish people residing on the island and living in conflict between 1960 and 1974, there have been a couple of attempts to resolve the conflict.

The referendum of April 2004, which was brokered by then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, resulted in the overwhelmingly 75.83 percent "No" vote from the Greek Cypriots community for unification. Since the 2004 referendum results, the peace talks have continued at intervals until today, yet no clear result in favor of the two sides of the island has been secured.

After failed peace negotiations over the past 40 years, there is one major reason to ignite a sense of hope in the heart of parties that participate in the current process. The vast amount of natural gas reserves that have been discovered over the last decade provides an important impetus to sustain the peace for good. Given the geographical position of the island, located south of Turkey, west of Syria and Lebanon, northwest of Israel and Palestine, and north of Egypt and southeast of Greece, the export of the gas to the European market requires collaboration by Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, and Greece.

The island is reported to have discovered a gas reserve of an estimated 4 trillion cubic feet (approximately over 110 trillion cubic meters) valued at $50 billion. The Aphrodite gas field located at the 12th exploratory drilling block in the maritime Exclusive Economic Zone is estimated to hold a 200 billion cubic meters of gas. Included within the Mediterranean gas reserve, Israel's Leviathan gas field is reported to contain some 500 billion cubic meters of gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Furthermore, last year, Italian oil and gas giant Eni reported the discovery of an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Zohr field offshore Egypt. This enormous amount of gas constitutes an important source for natural gas supply and export in Eastern Mediterranean.

Due to the dispute over Cyprus' maritime Exclusive Economic Zone, established with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea and covering 13 exploratory drilling blocks, the exploitation and export of the gas discovered in this area has not been allowed. However, now, in order to be able to export this gas to the European market and decrease Europe's dependence on Russian gas, and to ensure energy supply security, the island is seeking a viable solution that will hopefully secure peace between the Turkish and Greek communities.

Speaking at an event assessing the natural gas expectations in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey's envoy to Beirut Çağatay Erciyes drew attention to the significance of a definite resolution regarding the island. "The natural gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean serve multiple purposes. The natural gas reserves in the region will not only serve the domestic market, but will also decrease Europe's dependence on a single exporter by providing the continent with multiple suppliers to ensure supply security. Therefore, natural gas constitutes an important factor toward ensuring reconciliation in the region."

Given that Israel seeks more cost-effective ways to export its gas in the Leviathan field and Tamar gas fields to Europe, the country is considering building a pipeline through Turkey in order to reach the European market. As Daily Sabah previously reported based on a study prepared by Israel, if the natural gas is to be carried to Europe via Turkey, the cost of an assumed 600-kilometer-long pipeline will vary between $2.64 billion and $3.96 billion. Thus, the average cost of the pipeline stretching from Israel to Turkey will reach $3.3 billion. If the Greece route is preferred, the cost will double. For the actualization of the project, a 1,300-kilometer pipeline must be built with Greece. In this case, the average cost exceeds $7.15 billion.

With lucrative exports that will boost the economy of the island and the Eastern Mediterranean on a larger scale, the natural gas reserve in the region present a solid reason for optimism this time. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı are committed to settling the issue after decades of dispute and have been discussing a reunification plan since May 2015. The current plan involves the establishment of two constituent states within a federal framework on the island. With this type of government on the island, every decision including the use of natural resources will include both parties and will yield benefits for both sides.

The resolution of the dispute will also settle the major conflict over the Exclusive Economic Zone, which has halted the export of gas to the European market since the offshore and undersea borders are not clearly mapped out yet. However, the reunification of the island will settle the uncertainties and allow both sides to claim jurisdiction over the Exclusive Economic Zone, over which Greek Cyprus currently claims to exercise sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living (eg fisheries) or non-living (eg hydrocarbons), of the waters superjacent to the seabed.

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