Striking Politics When Drilling For Gas In Mediterranean

Striking Politics When Drilling For Gas In Mediterranean
Anne Feitz


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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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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