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Striking Politics When Drilling For Gas In Mediterranean
Anne Feitz

-Analysis-

PARIS — Drilling operations have begun off the coast of Cyprus despite Ankara's threats against the Cypriot government. And for French oil and gas multinational Total and its Italian partner, ENI, hopes for a huge payout are running high. As IHS Markit reported earlier this year, the "Onisiforos' operation, as it's known, is expected to be "one of the most critical wells drilled globally in 2017."

It will be several months before Total and ENI have a clear picture of what exactly the Onisiforos well will turn up. But they have reason to be optimistic given other recent natural gas discoveries in the area. Egypt's Zohr gas field, thought to be the biggest gas discovery in the Mediterranean, is only six kilometers away.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there could be up to 3.4 trillion cubic meters of gas in this eastern corner of the Mediterranean alone, called the Levantine Basin. Not all of it will be extracted, but such natural gas reserves could be enough to sustain a country the size of France for the next 50 years, at least.

Getting to the gas, however, is easier said than done. "From a geological point of view, the Levantine Basin has the same potential as the North Sea," says Olivier Appert, who chairs the French Council of Energy. "Except it's surrounded by seven countries that have been in conflict with one another for decades!"

The project is going well, the prospect is realistic.

The case of Cyprus is illustrative of these geopolitical difficulties. The island has been cut in half since 1974. Turkey, which occupies the northern part, doesn't recognize the Republic of Cyprus (although it's a member of both the EU and UN), and contests, among other things, how the territorial waters are shared. Ankara is particularly sensitive about the area Total and ENI are drilling, going so far at one point as to dispatch warships. Still, the companies "believe the political risk is manageable," says Francis Perrin, research director at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.

The great discoveries in the region began in 2009 and 2010 off the Israeli coast, first with the Tamar gas field and then with the huge Leviathan gas field, found by the American company Noble Energy in association with Israel's Delek. There were more discoveries in 2011, off the southern coast of Cyprus, where Noble Energy discovered the Aphrodite gas field. Energy companies became even more convinced that they'd found a kind of natural-gas El Dorado in 2015, when ENI discovered the Zohr field, in Egypt.

The development of the Zohr gas field is now the most advanced. ENI, after teaming up with BP (10%) and Rosneft (30%), launched a fast-track development plan and production is expected to start by the end of this year. "The project is going well, the prospect is realistic," Francis Perrin says.

Watching the sunset at Seadrill Photo: Seadrill Facebook page

In Israel, the decision to invest on Leviathan was made at the end of 2016. "The Israelis lost a lot of time in internal discussions, but it should begin around late 2019-early 2020," the expert adds.

These discoveries risk shaking up the region's fragile balance. Egypt and Israel, two countries that used to import gas, will become exporters, as future production will, eventually, largely exceed interior demand. Egypt has already launched gigantic projects off the Nile delta (North Alexandria, West Mediterranean Deepwater).

"All these new volumes will have to find buyers," says Thierry Bros, a researcher at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. Part of that gas will be liquefied in Egyptian installations that are currently underused. "On paper, European countries could be future buyers, given that deposits in the North Sea and the Netherlands are declining fast," says Perrin. "But they'll have a hard time competing with the particularly cheap Russian gas."

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Geopolitics

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

Jair Bolsonaro bogus claims perform well online

Cris Faga/ZUMA
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

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