With the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean bringing Turkey’s old and new rivalries together, the Ankara government is taking slow but steady steps toward a comeuppance for them. Only time will tell whether the effort will yield productive results.
On Feb. 17, Turkey launched the Tubitak Marmara, its first domestically produced oil-exploration vessel, some two weeks after the Barbaros Hayrettin, a newly purchased 3-D seismic exploration vessel, docked at Istanbul, on Feb. 1.
Speaking before parliament on Jan. 30, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz asserted that Turkey’s underwater oil and natural gas explorations had received new momentum. He described the new vessels as part of a well-coordinated effort clearly signaling that the path ahead will not be an easy one for anyone attempting to isolate Turkey and prevent it from exploiting its rightful share of hydrocarbons in the region. If these ships say something, it is that Turkey is serious about preserving its water rights and exclusive economic zone. They also highlight that Turkey is no longer solely reliant on others to assist it with hydrocarbon exploration.
Recent hydrocarbon discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean basin have brought together Israel, Greece and Greek Cyprus in an unusual alignment at a time when Turkish and Israeli politicians have gone over the cliff in their failed efforts to revive their relationship in the wake of the Mavi Marmara affair. Turkish officials closely monitoring the situation remain skeptical about the trio’s ability to bring the oil and natural gas finds to market at a reasonable price — especially given the complicated engineering of building a pipeline in the Eastern Mediterranean basin if the they are determined to push Turkey aside.
For starters, Turkish energy analysts point to the issue of deepwater pressure. A Turkish-Israeli effort to exploit the hydrocarbons would involve building some 460 kilometers [285 miles] of pipeline under the Mediterranean, from Ceyhan to Haifa. That said, the distance from Israel to Greek Cyprus and then to Greece exceeds 2,000 kilometers [1,200 miles]. Water pressure is such a difficult challenge at that length that Turkish analysts consider building the pipeline an “impossible mission.”
Turkey, meanwhile, is playing its own hand in the hydrocarbon game. “We are about to finalize our work of the past seven months concerning seismic exploration at sea. We purchased a vessel that has proved its success in two- and three-dimensional seismic exploration of the sea basin,” Energy Minister Yildiz told the parliament. “It is first going to conduct seismic exploration of the Black Sea and then move to the Mediterranean. Because it uses 3-D technology, I believe we will accomplish a lot in a short period of time.”
At the ceremony for launching the Tubitak Marmara, Nihat Ergun, minister of science, industry, and technology, emphasized that not only will the craft be used for oil and natural gas exploration, but also for an array of other things, among them, studying maritime traffic, observing pipelines, preserving the environment, and studying fault lines.
The new ships are good news for the Turkish maritime sector despite being latecomers. For a country surrounded by water on three sides, and thus having some 8,500 kilometers [5,281 miles] of coastline, Turkey has been slow to expand on ways to best benefit from the sea. It is now making clear that it is taking hydrocarbon discoveries quite seriously in its allocation of funding, research, and manpower to ensure that Turkey scores its own advantages.
Yet the wiser option, at least for Turkey and Israel, would be to find a way past their stalemate over the Mavi Marmara apology kerfuffle and focus on the long-term interests of the region. Practically speaking, however, the likelihood that they will act with such wisdom is zero.
Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. She also had a regular column at The Washington Times for almost four years.