By Stelios Orphanides
The minister of energy said that Cyprus’s plans to explore, develop and exploit hydrocarbons in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) will continue even if Turkish war vessels prevented a drillship hired by Italy’s energy company Eni from approaching its target.
“We are going ahead as we planned,” Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said in an interview to state-radio CyBC on Monday just days after the drillship Saipem 12000 left the area of block 3 where it failed to reach its drilling target Cuttlefish. “The drilling at Cuttlefish has been postponed, which is not a good development. This however is not cancelling anything else that we have planned and is in progress”.
A framework agreement governing the construction of an undersea pipelines which will allow Cyprus to sell natural gas to one of Egypt’s liquefaction plants will be forwarded to the European Commission for comments before the Cypriot and Egyptian governments sign it, he said and added that comments made by Egyptian officials show that things are going the way “we have planned”.
“After negotiations are completed –and we are already in an advanced stage– the pipeline project will have to enter the implementation stage, a job for a joint venture,” he added. “The companies involved in negotiations, have expressed their willingness to invest in this pipeline which shows that it is financially viable”.
Developing block 12 Aphrodite would cost around 3 billion (euros) while the construction of the pipeline another billion (euros), he said.
The decision of Turkey, which opposes the Republic of Cyprus’s hydrocarbon plans as long as the island remains divided, to block ENI’s drillship from accessing its drill target spoiled the euphoria generated by the company’s February 8, announcement of a promising gas reserve after drilling at Calypso in block 6 of the EEZ.
In addition, Turkey claims a large portion of the Cypriot EEZ on the grounds that it stretches over Turkish continental self, including part of block 6. Turkish Cypriots signed a ‘continental shelf delimitation agreement’ with Turkey in September 2011 which they interpret in a way that gives them parts of the Cypriot EEZ, including block 3. Reunification talks broke down in July last year.
“I am not surprised by Turkey’s behaviour,” Lakkotrypis continued. “It is besides a country that does not respect its citizens, let alone its neighbours. What surprised me most it was the Turkish Cypriots and their statements in recent days. It was an unpleasant surprise”.
Ozdil Nami, who holds the energy resort in the Turkish Cypriot ‘government’ said that Greek and Turkish Cypriots should jointly manage the natural reserves or the Cypriot hydrocarbon programme should be frozen until the settlement of the Cyprus problem.
According to Turkey’s interpretation, Cyprus’s EEZ is restricted to 30 per cent of what it is today, he said. “If we accept the Turkish version, that means that Aphrodite lies within Israel’s EEZ,” Lakkotrypis said. On top, Calypso and Onisiforos, a reserve containing negligible amounts of natural gas discovered by Total, and the whole block 10, would lie in Egypt’s EEZ and block 3 in Lebanon’s EEZ.
“A serious question (the Turkish Cypriots) should answer is whether they accept the Turkish version of the EEZ while they are asking for (joint) management,” he added.
“The Turkish Cypriots are talking about dividing the EEZ before the settlement,” Lakkotrypis who has also been nominated to continue at his post also when the second term of President Nicos Anastasiades, said. “Natural resources however are not only hydrocarbons. Land is also a natural resource and was a more important resource 20 to 30 years ago when we had an agriculture-based economy. Why should we focus on hydrocarbons and why should they be divided with or without a solution?”
Lakkotrypis added that Cyprus is planning more steps concerning its energy programme in its EEZ which concern collaboration projects that shows that the companies involved “are standing on our side and believe in the Republic of Cyprus’s prospects” in developing its hydrocarbons.
“There are continuous developments in this direction but there is nothing that can be announced yet,” he added. “We must however think about how we are re-adjusting our strategy after everything that has happened to the new framework that Turkey is trying to shape with its aggressive behaviour”.
The minister said that while the scenario of Turkey preventing Eni from drilling at block 3 was among the possible scenarios, it was not deemed as a likely-one. In the past, while Turkey did harass the vessels of other energy companies with its naval and air forces, it never prevented them from accessing their target.
“Turkey also was tried to intimidate the countries of the companies operating here as well as the very companies and failed,” he said. “Now it is trying to intimidate us”.
In response to a question whether a possible visit of the Emir of Qatar, a close ally of Turkey, to Athens may be related to Cyprus, Lakkotrypis said that he was not aware. Qatar’s state company Qatar Petroleum is partner in the joint venture led by the US ExxonMobil that won the licence for block 10 last year.
“I know there is interest of the particular joint venture for the Greek EEZ, as we saw it in Cyprus’s third (oil and gas) licencing round,” Lakkotrypis said. “But I do not know what meetings took place and whether they took place in Athens”.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has told his Turkish counterpart that Ankara must respect Cyprus’ sovereignty.
According to a statement issued by the French President’s office, during a telephone conversation Macron held with Erdogan on Monday morning, the French President told him that he was worried about recent events off the coast of Cyprus, stressing “the need to respect Cyprus’ sovereignty”.