This is one of a series of articles from our new feature ‘Background briefing: The Divided Island‘. It is a comprehensive interactive information guide on the Cyprus problem which we are publishing at this critical moment in the settlement negotiations. There is a menu bar to the full package to the right of this article. Just click on any of the items.
With proven gas reserves off its southern shores, Cyprus sees itself playing a key role in a new regional energy equation involving Israel, Egypt, Greece and, in the event of a Cyprus settlement, Turkey.
The discovery of the Aphrodite field in late 2011 raised hopes that the prospect of a gas bonanza would galvanise efforts to reunite Cyprus, enabling Turkish Cypriots to share in future riches.
The gas issue, however, has also periodically raised tensions, with Turkey demanding the Greek Cypriots postpone drilling until the Cyprus problem is solved.
This timeline by Elias Hazou provides the facts and figures for key developments in Cyprus’ search for hydrocarbons. You can see when maritime border agreements were reached and which companies won concessions in which blocks.
Offshore gas discoveries belonging to other countries are also recorded as these are likely to influence how Cyprus develops and exports its gas.
2003: Cyprus demarcates its maritime border with Egypt.
2004: Cyprus adopts a new law limiting its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by 12 nautical miles. The EEZ is to be delimited via bilateral agreements with Israel, Lebanon and Egypt.
2007: Cyprus demarcates its maritime border with Lebanon.
February 2007: Cyprus announces the first offshore licensing round in 11 exploration blocks within the EEZ of the Republic. Blocks 3 and 13 are excluded.
October 2008: Texas-based Noble Energy is granted an exploration licence for Block 12 for an initial period of three years.
November 2008: Turkish naval vessels harass Cyprus-contracted vessels conducting seismic exploration for hydrocarbon deposits in waters south of the island.
2010: Cyprus and Israel demarcate their respective maritime borders.
December 2010: Noble Energy announces the discovery of the Leviathan gas field in Israeli waters. It is the largest gas reservoir (between 18 trillion cubic feet to 22 trillion cubic feet) in the Mediterranean Sea until the August 2015 discovery of the Zohr gas field off the coast of Egypt.
September 19, 2011: Noble Energy commences exploratory drilling in Block 12 without any incidents being reported. Cyprus’ drilling efforts have the support of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
September 21, 2011: Turkey, which does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, signs a ‘continental shelf delineation agreement’ with northern Cyprus.
Maps published in Turkey’s official gazette show that oil drilling permits issued to the Turkish National Oil and Gas Company (TPAO) stretch as far as the Greek island of Rhodes as well as blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 as delineated in the Cyprus Republic’s EEZ, south and south-west of the island.
Turkey also supports northern Cyprus’ claims in the Republic’s blocks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 12, and 13, including within few kilometres from the Aphrodite gas field in Block 12.
September 22, 2011: Turkish Cypriot authorities grant an exploration licence to the TPAO to explore for oil and natural gas around the island.
September 28, 2011: the Turkish seismographic vessel Piri Reis and two Turkish warships come into close range of Noble Energy’s platform south of Cyprus, and on some occassions encroach into Block 12. Two Turkish F16 jets are spotted flying over the area. The activity is monitored by US, British, Russian and Greek warships.
December 28, 2011: Noble Energy announces discovery of the Aphrodite gas field in Block 12. The reservoir lies 30 km northwest of Israel’s Leviathan field.
February 2012: Cyprus announces the second offshore licensing round, for blocks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 13.
January 24, 2013: the government signs contracts granting licences for the exploration of blocks 2, 3 and 9 to the ENI- Kogas consortium. The reported signature bonuses arising from the signing of these contracts amount to €150m.
February 6, 2013: the government signs contracts granting licences for the exploration of blocks 10 and 11 to French multinational Total, resulting in a signature bonus of €24m.
February 11, 2013: the government signs agreements for the transfer of 30 per cent of Noble Energy’s exploration rights in Block 12, to Israeli companies Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration.
June 2013: Noble Energy commences appraisal drilling work in Block 12.
October 3, 2013: Noble Energy announces results of the appraisal drilling. Revised estimates for the Aphrodite field are gross mean reserves of 5 trillion cubic feet.
December 17, 2013: Noble Energy discloses that some 3 billion barrels of oil may lie in deepwater strata between Cypriot and Israeli offshore fields.
September 25, 2014: ENI commences drilling operations at the Onasagoras well in its Block 9 concession.
November 2014: at an energy conference in Nicosia, Noble Energy announces that it is shelving plans for a land-based Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility. The Houston-based outfit states that regional pipelines are its top priority at this stage.
December 2014: ENI announces it has not found sufficient commercially exploitable natural gas at the Onasagoras well.
January 2015: ENI commences exploratory drilling at the Amathusa well in Block 9.
January 2015: Turkey issues a new marine advisory, despatching the Barbaros, and again reserving areas for exploration in the eastern Mediterranean – including parts of Cyprus’ maritime zone – from January 6 to April 6.
February 2015: Total relinquishes Block 10 without drilling any wells. The company is released from its original two-well drilling commitment – across two adjacent blocks, 10 and 11, lying on the maritime border with Egypt – on the condition that it continues to evaluate 3D seismic data in Block 11 in an attempt to locate a possible target. Total’s exploration licence in Block 11 is due to expire in February 2016.
March 2015: the government announces that ENI has not found commercially exploitable gas reserves at the Amathusa well.
With UN mediation, Turkey agrees not to renew its marine advisory, which was set to expire on April 6, and to withdraw the Barbaros from Cypriot waters. In turn, the fact that Cyprus itself will not be conducting offshore drilling for several months opens a window for the resumption of reunification talks.
April 2015: ‘presidential elections’ held in the north. Moderate Mustafa Akinci is elected ‘president’.
May 15, 2015: after a seven-month break, peace talks resume between President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.
June 7, 2015: the Block 12 partners, Noble Energy, Delek and Avner, declare the Aphrodite gas field commercial.
June 10, 2015: the Block 12 partners submit to the government the Development and Production Plan for Aphrodite.
August 2015: ENI announces discovery of the Zohr gas field in Egyptian waters. The largest to-date gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, Zohr holds an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of lean gas in place. It lies six kilometres from Cyprus’ Block 11 and 90 kilometres from the Aphrodite gas find in Block 12.
The massive Egyptian discovery, and its proximity to licensed Cypriot acreages, rekindles interest from both ENI and Total in their respective Cypriot concessions.
December 28, 2015: the cabinet approves a request by the ENI-Kogas consortium to extend its exploration activities by two more years. Concessions were renewed for offshore blocks 2, 3 and 9.
The consortium’s concession was due to expire in February 2016, now extended to February 2018.
December 2015: the cabinet approves the renewal of Total’s exploration concession on Block 11 for a period of two years, to February 2018.
January 2016: the energy ministry announces that BG Cyprus, subsidiary of British multinational oil and gas company BG Group, has joined the Block 12 consortium with a 35 per cent stake.
February 2016: ignoring government pleas, Larnaca’s municipal council votes against extending the permit for the operation of MedServ, the company providing oil support services to the energy companies. Medserv’s permit at the port of Larnaca was set to expire in August of 2016.
Total reluctantly agrees to shift its onshore support base to the port of Limassol.
February 2016: Cyprus announces the third offshore licensing round, putting up for auction blocks 6, 8 and 10. The bids subsequently submitted are:
Block 6: ENI/Total
Block 8: Capricorn Oil/Delek Drilling, ENI
Block 10: ENI/Total, Exxon Mobil/Qatar Petroleum, Statoil
August 2, 2016: Turkey’s foreign affairs ministry warns energy companies expressing interest in Block 6 in the third licensing round that any exploratory activity is unauthorised as part of the acreage lies within what it claims is Turkey’s continental shelf.
October 2016: Total and EDT offshore, an oil and gas services company, sign a contract where the latter is to provide the former onshore logistics services out of the port of Limassol supporting Total’s drilling programme. At the signing ceremony, Total announce they are poised to drill their first exploratory well in Block 11 in April 2017.
October 2016: Complications arise relating to the since-privatised concession services at the port of Limassol. Concession holders G.A.P. Vassilopoulos Group and DP World say they have a monopoly over the concession, and that the arrangement between Total and EDT is null and void as it violates their own agreement with the government to operate the port.
December 21, 2016: The government announces the preferred bidders with whom it will begin negotiations with a view to awarding concessions in the third licensing round. The preferred bidders are: the consortium of ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum for Block 10; the consortium of ENI and Total for Block 6; and ENI for Block 8.
According to energy minister, Giorgos Lakkotrypis, decisions to award concessions are expected in late January or February 2017.
December 23, 2016: Sources tell the Cyprus Mail that the path is clear for energy giant Total to use the facilities at the port of Limassol, following a deal struck between EDT, the outfit providing Total with onshore logistical support, and the port concessionaires.
December 30, 2016: Reports indicate that the Cyprus Hydrocarbons Company (CHC) may remain without expert legal advice for the foreseeable future, possibly impeding its ability to negotiate major energy-related projects. The complication is due to an appeal launched against the CHC’s decision awarding a contract to procure legal services.
January 2017: The EastMed pipeline is commercially viable and technically feasible, states a study presented in Brussels to the EU Directorate-General for Energy and the director generals of the Ministries of Energy of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Italy.
According to the study conducted by Edison, the estimated cost of EastMed is $6 billion.
The project is being implemented by IGI Poseidon S.A., a 50-50 per cent joint venture between DEPA S.A. and Edison S.p.A., incorporated under Greek law and based in Athens.
March 2017: The government announces its decision to award three more exploration concessions as part of its third hydrocarbons licensing round.
The concessions are granted to a consortium of ENI and Total for Block 6, Eni for Block 8, and a consortium consisting of ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum for Block 10.
Turkey’s energy minister Berat Albayrak states that his country will step up seismic exploration of oil and natural gas resources in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea this year.
“We will take steps this year towards exploring and drilling in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea,”
Albayrak told Anadolu Agency at the IHS CERAWeek 2017 energy conference in Houston.
Turkey claims that part of block 6 lies within the Turkish continental shelf.
April 19, 2017: Turkey issues a Navtex, or notice to mariners, reserving an area inside the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone, off Famagusta, to carry out seismic surveys between April 30 and June 30.
The reserved area (Navtex no. 410/17) covers an expanse from the bay of Famagusta to Apostolos Andreas off the tip of the Karpas peninsula. The area reserved for seismic studies includes parts of Cyprus’ EEZ, but also extends into part of Cyprus’ territorial waters.
Turkey dispatches to the island its seismic survey vessel, the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa.
May 18, 2017: The cabinet approves a proposal by state-owned Natural Gas Public Company (Defa) to proceed as soon as possible with two tenders for the import of natural gas.
The first tender will provide for the creation of the necessary infrastructure and the second for the procurement of the natural gas, according to energy minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis.
June 8, 2017: Turkey’s energy minister Berat Albayrak, on a flash visit to the north, is taken aboard the Turkish seismic survey vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, according to reports in the Turkish Cypriot media.
June 11, 2017: Total confirms reports that it is poised to begin drilling for gas in its Block 11 concession in mid-July.
Yves Grosjean, country manager for Total E&P Cyprus, tells the Cyprus Mail: “I can confirm that well preparation is on schedule for a start in mid July.”
Total’s first-ever exploratory well in the Cypriot EEZ is dubbed ‘Onesiphorus West 1’. Drilling is to be carried out by the ultra-deepwater drillship ‘West Capella’.
June, 2017: In an item published in the Cyprus Mail, ExxonMobil said they and their Block 10 partners Qatar Petroleum have begun planning for drilling operations “and intend to drill a first exploration well in 2018.”
February, 2018: Eni, operators of block 6, announce a lean gas discovery off the coast of Cyprus after drilling an exploratory well at Calypso. The same drillship immediately heads for another drill site in block 3, also licensed to ENI.
February 10, 2018: Turkish warships, on the pretext of conducting naval drills in international waters, prevent the Saipem 12000 drillship from reaching its drilling destination – Soupia or Cuttlefish – in block 3. The standoff lasts two weeks, after which the drillship returns to port without drilling.
November, 2018: Exxon begins drilling the Delphyne-1 well in block 10. Exxon is the operator of block 10, with its partner being Qatar Petroleum. The US company is using the Stena Icemax drillship.
December 20, 2018: Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy sign a framework agreement to provide Europe with natural gas via the EastMed pipeline.
January, 2019: Exxon completes drilling at Delphyne, but makes no announcement. The Stena Icemax immediately heads for a second drilling site in block 10, dubbed Glaucus-1.
January 26, 2019: The Turkish research vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa embarks on another ‘seismic survey’ inside Cyprus’ EEZ. The surveys will last until May 26. The area reserved for the surveys covers large parts of Cyprus’ offshore blocks 1, 8 and 12, south of Limassol.
The Barbaros is being accompanied by two support vessels. Sources confirm to the Cyprus Mail that the Barbaros is also being escorted by a Turkish frigate.
Meanwhile under another Navtex the Turkish navy conducts a series of gunnery exercises spanning parts of Cyprus’ blocks 7 and 8.
February 27, 2019: Turkey launches the largest navy drill in its history. Over 100 vessels take part in the exercise dubbed ‘Blue Homeland’, lasting until March 2. The drill encompasses the Black Sea, Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.
February 28, 2019: ExxonMobil announces a gas discovery of between 5-8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) at the Glaucus-1 well. To date it is largest confirmed find in Cyprus’ EEZ, bigger than Noble Energy’s Aphrodite field holding 4.5 tcf.
ExxonMobil’s Vice-President for Europe, Russia, Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East, Tristan Aspray says he is encouraged by the discovery, adding that in the coming months there will be an appraisal drill to determine the field’s full potential.
The US oil major simultaneously discloses that it did not find commercial quantities of hydrocarbons at the Delphyne well.
Early March, 2019: Italy’s La Stampa newspaper suggests Rome is having second thoughts over the proposed EastMed subsea pipeline, which has received funding from the EU as a Project of Common Interest.
Work on the pipeline was expected to begin in 2019 year and conclude in five years.
March 21, 2019: Turkey’s Barbaros vessel contacts two oil tankers, advising them to change course to avoid collision with it. The incident occurs at about 13.5 nautical miles – in international waters – southeast of Vasilikos, Limassol.