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Turkey resumes drilling in the east Mediterranean after two years

Ankara sent out its newest drill ship to resume hydrocarbon exploration off its coast in the Mediterranean on 9 August after a two-year hiatus. The exploration can potentially inflame tensions as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed that Turkey reserved the right to search for gas in disputed waters.

The Abdulhamid Han – Turkey’s fourth and largest undersea hydrocarbon drill ship – will operate 55 kilometres off the Gazipasa region in the southern coastal province of Antalya. The area initially designated for the ship is not in disputed waters.

However, President Erdoğan underlined that the Abdulhamid Han will carry on to search for gas until it finds it, potentially leading it to areas claimed by Cyprus. “The drilling work we do in the Mediterranean is within our own jurisdiction. We don’t need anyone’s permission,” he said at the ceremony of the departure of the ship from the Mersin port.

In an ongoing dispute, Turkey and EU members Greece and Cyprus are at odds over exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and ownership of the associated Mediterranean gas fields. Turkey has sent ships to the contested waters of the east Mediterranean repeatedly escalating the disputes until the European Union imposed sanctions on Ankara in December 2020 for its actions in the region.

Turkey’s President said that the Abdulhamid Han ship symbolises Ankara’s new vision of energy. “We have lost time and resources. While setting our country’s goals we saw that foreign dependency on energy was the primary issue that should be addressed,” he pointed out.

Turkey’s other three drill ships are operating in the Black Sea where Turkey has discovered natural gas reserves. All four ships are named after Ottoman sultans.

“Not everyone who seeks can find it but those who find it are the ones who seek,” said President Erdoğan highlighting that Turkey found 540 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas in the Black Sea.

Although Turkey has become a major regional energy hub, it is almost entirely reliant on imports to meet its energy needs. The country’s rapid economic and population growth in the past two decades has not only strongly driven up energy demand, but also increased this import dependency.

Despite aspirations of energy independence, Russia is still a major source of energy supplies to Turkey, with market shares of 35-50 per cent for oil, gas and coal. Ankara wants to minimise its exposure to the high-priced spot LNG market but it will have to decide on quick steps to secure its demand.

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