Turkey’s TPAO starts oil, natural gas search in northern Cyprus

Source: Today’s Zaman

Turkey began exploratory drilling for oil and gas on Thursday in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), escalating a dispute over who is entitled to the Mediterranean island’s potential fuel riches.

The move counters an offshore gas search by rival Greek Cypriots in the island’s internationally recognized southern nation that has touched off vociferous protests from Ankara and Turkish Cypriots, according to an AP report. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız joined KKTC leader Derviş Eroğlu to inaugurate the start of drilling by the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPAO) at the Türkyurdu-1 borehole in in Gazimağusa. Yıldız said his country was committed to continue exploration efforts for oil and gas in the KKTC, even if drilling on Thursday proved disappointing.

“We will explore our own oil and gas. I have to admit that only one in a thousand fresh drilling operations becomes successful. This particular well can fail us but it is part of a wider exploration effort which will provide us also with a detailed underground map of northern Cyprus,” the Anatolia news agency reported Yıldız as having said during the ceremony. “We may not extract oil or gas from this well, but drilling is part of a wider package,” Yıldız said. “This work has strategic significance and we attribute great importance to it.” Eroğlu hailed the start of drilling as “a historic moment” which accords Turkish Cypriots “great strategic significance.”

“We will not allow anyone to take away the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean,” said Eroğlu. TPAO President and CEO Mehmet Uysal said drilling will reach a total depth of 3,000 meters (9,850 feet) and will take four months to complete. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey intervened after a coup by supporters of uniting with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in 1983 is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains 35,000 troops there.

Turkey doesn’t recognize Greek Cyprus as a sovereign country and insists that the Greek Cypriot search flouts the rights of Turkish Cypriots to any gas-generated wealth while undermining negotiations to reunify the island.

Tensions were raised last year when Ankara sent a warship-escorted research vessel to look for fuel off the island’s southern coast. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also warned that his country would “retaliate even more strongly” to any further mineral exploration around the island by Greek Cypriots.

The Greek Cypriot government says any fuel search is its sovereign right and has denounced what it calls Turkey’s “gunboat diplomacy.” It also said gas finds could be an incentive to peace that would allow both Turkish Cypriots and Turkey to share in the wealth.

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