Turkish Black Sea gas discovery fails to ease East Med tensions

Turkish Oil Black SeaTurkey’s discovery of 320bn cubic metres of Black Sea gas earlier this month has done little to ease tensions with Greece over exploration activities in the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean. Although it is the biggest ever discovery in the Black Sea, it is not the hoped-for game changer expected by some observers after earlier reports suggested the find would meet Turkey’s energy needs for the next 20 years. Given the lead-in time for gas extraction, analysts had already been casting doubts on the extent that the government was claiming it could help eliminate  Turkey’s $3bn current account deficit.
Erdogan remained bullish, however. “As a country that has suffered problems for years as a result of our dependence on foreign energy sources, I believe that we can now look to the future with greater confidence,” he said. Black Sea gas production could begin as soon as 2023, he added. More ominously in the context of Turkey’s increasingly fraught relations with neighbouring Greece, Erdogan then went on to say that Turkey would also be accelerating its efforts to find gas in the eastern Mediterranean. The sovereignty of the region’s hydrocarbon deposits has been a bone of contention between Athens and Ankara for well over a decade, exacerbated by a combination of Greece’s long- standing economic woes and Turkey’s ambition to establish itself as a regional hub on the back of its strategic location on the route of the Trans -Anatolian pipeline (TANAP).
East Mediterranean Exclusion zonesTurkey has repeatedly  argued that Greece’s islands should not be included in calculating maritime zones of economic interest – a position that Greece says contradicts international law. Tensions rose further earlier this month when Egypt and Greece formally agreed a mutual, exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean, prompting Turkey to resume its own exploration efforts in the region. Days later, a Turkish frigate in a convoy escorting an exploration ship collided with a Greek equivalent charged with patrolling the zone,.
The incident – which appears to have been the result of little more than clumsy manoeuvring on both sides  – generated a lot of hot air and bluster in both Athens and Ankara which quickly blew over. But it will have had red lights flashing in both capitals, not to mention the UN.