On August 21, 2020, Turkey’s President ERDOGAN announced that a sizeable natural gas field of 320 billion cubic meters of natural gas had been found off the Turkish Black Sea coast.
Ibrahim KALIN presidential adviser and spokesman said: “It is only the beginning”. “We are very hopeful that it would lead to other fields in the same area”.
Turkey is paying tens of billions of dollars annually to meet the country’s energy needs. The discovery is projected to ease the financial burden for a number of years as ERDOGAN said authorities were planning to have the natural gas reserve ready for Turkey in 2023.
The rapid economic growth over the past decades has seen a demand surge from a meager 0.5bcm in 1987 to 53.5bcm in 2017, most of which is imported.
Turkey’s biggest gas supplier has been the Russian Federation, accounting for more than half of the volume entering the country, followed by Iran, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Qatar, and others.
In the first half of 2020, Russian and Iranian gas imports slumped by more than 40 %, with Azerbaijan emerging as the biggest exporter to the Turkish market, supplying almost a quarter of all gas imports. In the same period, imports of liquified natural gas grew by almost 45 %, with Algeria and Qatar claiming about half of those imports.
The discovery is not likely to end Turkey’s dependence on foreign alternatives but ERDOGAN said the reserves found were “only part of much richer resources” given the fact that Turkey has one of the world’s top drilling and seismic operation fleet and also holds operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, rich in terms of hydrocarbon reserves, along with the Black Sea region, Turkey’s energy dependence might decline significantly in the future.
Mehmet Seyfettin EROL, head of the Ankara Centre for Crisis and Policy Research (ANKASAM), said the natural gas discovery paved the way for independent policies and might increase Turkey’s regional influence.
“Natural gas and oil were sometimes weaponized against Turkey; therefore, the discovery is likely to strengthen Turkish position in the sense of safety of energy supply,” EROL said.
He said also that relations between Turkey and Russia might be affected by the discovery, arguing that Moscow would have a “weaker hand” against Ankara in terms of energy issues after the discovery. Erol said the two countries, who have recently developed close ties, would maintain a close relationship as a result of their collaboration on energy-transfer routes.
“One thing that should not be overlooked in this regard is that a new geopolitical structure might appear in the Black Sea region, which is likely to be part of the international agenda more and become center of geopolitical competition as the interest of third parties might increase in this region,” he said.
Turkey could emerge as a more powerful country and make use of “energy diplomacy” in a more effective manner if more discoveries were made, adding this was likely as the country pursued drilling goals through national means.
Matthew BYRZA, the senior fellow at Washington-based Atlantic Council think-tank, told Anadolu Agency that the discovery was a “good news” for Turkey as Romania had been drilling in the region for years and had proven reserves amounting to 200 billion cubic meters.
“The discovery provides Turkey optionality, which means negotiating leverage with Russia and other gas suppliers”, Matthew BYRZA said. “Such leverage is a big deal when relations are so tense with Moscow and when one of Turkey’s natural gas supply contract with Russia, for 8 billion cubic meters, expires next year”.
“This discovery provides Turkey leverage over all of its gas suppliers, whether they be Russian, Iranian, Algerian, or even American. And as I describe above, this leverage over Russia, as well as Iran, could indeed be useful in Syria, as well as Libya and Azerbaijan/Armenia” said the former US ambassador to Azerbaijan and White House official.
“As Ankara reduces its dependence on Russian natural gas, it will help these people in NATO’s space better appreciate that Turkey’s foreign policy in recent months has been an assertion of the country’s interests and legal rights in a pragmatic way that is in the interests of NATO rather than Russia” he added.
Ahmet UYSAL, the head of the Middle East Strategic Studies Center (ORSAM), said becoming an energy hub had been on Turkey’s international agenda for some time and the discovery in the Black Sea would boost Ankara’s position in the international arena.
The gas discovery is also seen in Turkey as a piece of positive news at a moment when the Turkish economy is struggling. After a bounce-back in 2019, it has taken a huge hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IMF and World Bank expect the gross domestic product to shrink by 3.8-5 percent this year, for the first time since 2009. The Turkish lira has lost a fifth of its value vis-a-vis the dollar since January.
Black Sea gas is not enough to rescue Turkey. Though authorities are vowing that production will kick off as early as 2023, the centennial of the Republic, tapping into offshore deposits is technically challenging and costly. With hydrocarbon prices low, recouping investment might prove difficult.
Even though such a prospect is still distant and uncertain, the lira strengthened on August 26, 2020, after ERDOGAN’s cryptic comments, as traders anticipated a positive impact.
A banker said the market reaction showed that Turks, who have been selling lira for foreign currency in recent months, were looking for a reason to convert back to the lira, but that they also want to be sure it will not depreciate further.
This article was edited using the data from the Aljazeera.com, Dw.com, Aa.com.tr, and Economictimes.indiatimes.com