Turkey has discovered energy in the Black Sea, most likely natural gas, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Wednesday, but gave no indication of the size and depth of the find, nor how difficult it will be to extract.
The two spoke after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to deliver Turks “good news” on Friday that would usher in a new era for the nation. He has also vowed to pursue energy exploration in contested Mediterranean waters that has triggered rows with the European Union. The president’s office declined to comment.
The lira extended gains against the dollar after the news and was trading 1.2% stronger late Wednesday local time. The benchmark Borsa Istanbul 100 Index also rose 3% after Erdogan spoke, while shares of refiner Turkiye Petrol Rafinerileri AS, or Tupras, and petrochemical manufacturer Petkim Petrokimya Holding AS jumped 7.6% and 9.9% respectively.
Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said last month that the drilling ship Fatih had started exploration in the so-called Tuna-1 zone, off the Turkish town of Eregli.
“There have been gas discoveries in the Black Sea before but of a limited scale,” Timothy Ash, a strategist at BlueBay Asset Management LLP in London, said on Twitter. “Given its $35-50 billion annual energy import bill, Turkey needs something big to be a game changer.”
Market upheaval has sent the lira to a record low against the dollar, but the central bank has opted to tighten policy by stealth, avoiding a change in the benchmark interest rate that could irk Erdogan, who continues to call for lower borrowing costs. The central bank’s policy committee meets on Thursday to consider rates.
Tuna-1, some 150 kilometers from Turkey’s coast, is close to an area where maritime borders of Bulgaria and Romania converge and not far from Romania’s Neptun block, the largest gas find in the Black Sea in decades discovered eight years ago by Petrom and Exxon. The Fatih has been carrying out drilling operations in Tuna-1 area since around mid-July according to a Turkish Navy website.
Romania has shallow-water gas projects, but a major deep-water find by OMV Petrom SA eight years ago has still to be exploited. A company backed by the Carlyle Group is also exploring off Romania, aiming to get gas in 2021. Rosneft has explored in the Russian part of the Black Sea but without concrete results.
“I don’t think it is that surprising more findings coming from there,” said Christoph Merkel, managing director of Merkel Energy consultancy. “Bulgaria, Ukraine, Greece might be among the ones very interested in buying that gas, if Turkey decides to export it.”
“Depending on the size of the discovery, I expect at least a tranche of TurkStream to be idle,” he said. “Why would Turkey want to keep importing gas from Russia?”
Gas giant Gazprom PJSC opened the TurkStream pipeline under the Black Sea to increase its market share in Turkey and reduce Russia’s dependence on Ukraine as a transit route
The Turkish discovery comes amid territorial disputes with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is actively searching for oil and gas in contested waters. France has temporarily increased its military presence to ward off Turkish steps, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday said the EU was concerned over the increased tensions.
Ankara resumed its search of the Mediterranean waters last week after German-mediated negotiations with Greece collapsed when Athens announced a maritime delimitation agreement with Egypt – in retaliation for a similar deal between Turkey and Libya. Erdogan said the European pressure wouldn’t make him change direction.
Turkey is especially at loggerheads with Cyprus over offshore gas reserves around the island. The Republic of Cyprus is an EU member state and officially has sovereignty over the entire island. But it has been effectively divided since Turkey’s military captured the northern third in 1974, following a coup attempt in which a military junta in Athens sought to unite Cyprus with Greece.
The Turkish minority’s self-proclaimed state in the north, recognized only by Ankara, claims rights to any energy resources discovered off its coast.
EU leaders already planned an emergency meeting in September to discuss the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, and have underscored the need to deescalate matters. During a video call on Wednesday, the 27 heads of state and government expressed “full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and recalled and reaffirmed our previous conclusions on the illegal drilling activities.”
The spat is one of several as Erdogan seeks to reassert Turkey as a regional power. From conflicts in Syria and Libya to strikes in Iraq, NATO’s second-largest army has intervened with armed drones, warplanes and tanks. Erdogan has also urged Mediterranean countries to come together and solve disputes.
“Turkey’s struggle from the eastern Mediterranean to Libya is not about its rights but its future,” he said Wednesday, as the Turkish Navy said it started back to back exercises in the northwest of Cyprus through Aug. 28.
(Updates with start of Turkish drilling operations in Black Sea in seventh paragraph, Turkey starting navy exercises northwest of Cyprus in the last paragraph.)
-With assistance from Tugce Ozsoy,Ercan Ersoy, Firat Kozok, Richard Bravo, Vanessa Dezem and Emma Ross-Thomas.