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Tensions Rise In The Mediterranean Over Natural Gas Discovery

BY: Suzann Abraham

On August 21, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the drilling ship Fatih, operating since July, had discovered 320 billion cubic metres of gas. He said that all the tests and engineering were completed. This reserve is part of a bigger source and Turkey is pushing to become a net exporter in energy. The President has plans to start extraction by 2023. 1

So why is this a problem?

To begin with, energy experts say that it would take a decade and billions of dollars to extract and commercialize the gas. 1  Additionally, the amount of recoverable gas is unknown. “The question now is how much of this gas is recoverable. This is not clear yet. What the market really wants to know also is how much they can produce per year, but I don’t think they are in the position to say that yet,” said Jonathan Lamb, senior oil and gas analyst for Wood & Co. 2

Also, the new discovery came during territorial disputes with Greece and Cyprus. 

This conflict came at a time when oil prices were low and investors were withdrawing their funds. It involved Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and several European powers. It began when Turkey sent an energy exploration ship with a naval escort in an area Athens claimed as their territory. France sent warships in support of Greece. Egypt and Israel also expressed their support with Athens. 4 Two days later, a Turkish and a Greek warship collided with one another. After this, President Erdogan warned of consequences for anyone attacking the Turkish drilling vessel, exploring for oil and gas in waters claimed by both Greece and Turkey. 3

This conflict has involved several geopolitical fault-lines including the EU and MENA region coverage. In August 2015, an Italian energy major, Eni, discovered a large gas field in an Eygptian territory and began plans to effectively market the gas to Europe as liquified natural gas (LNG). This affected Turkey as it gave no role to their pipeline infrastructure to Europe, destroying their progress to becoming a regional energy hub. 4 Several similar conflicts rose after this incident. With every action from Turkey, the response from Egypt, Israel, Cyprus and Greece was to strengthen their fronts with support from France, Italy and the United States. Turkey cannot tolerate watching its NATO allies support them and consider it a “betrayal and tantamount to a policy of containment.” 4

In 2019, Turkey signed its own maritime agreement with the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya. This was to gain legal standing to challenge borders Greece established with Egypt and Cyprus. This provided the GNA with security against the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, supported by France and Egypt to topple the government. 

As of 2020, the six Mediterranean countries are evenly split between the two nations. Germany could break the tie soon. If Turkey continues to push beyond its limits, the European Union and, possibly, the United States could side with Greece as they too have investments in the Mediterranean gas plans. 4


  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-53866217

  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/sergeiklebnikov/2020/08/21/turkey-discovers-large-natural-gas-reserve-in-black-sea-heres-why-that-matters/#730471e72106

  3. https://theconversation.com/turkey-greece-conflict-in-eastern-mediterranean-is-less-about-gas-than-vaccuum-left-by-trump-144691

  4. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/18/eastern-mediterranean-greece-turkey-warship-geopolitical-showdown/

*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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