Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday the discovery of a large natural gas reserve off the Black Sea coast that will help ease the country’s dependence on imports. Its biggest-ever natural gas field holding 320 billion cubic meters (11.3 trillion cubic feet) in the Black Sea, and more could be found as the country works to provide it by as soon as 2023.
“Turkey has realised the biggest natural gas find of its history in the Black Sea,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkey aims to become a net energy exporter.
The Fatih has been drilling to a depth of 3,500 to 4,000 meters (11,500 to 13,000 feet), Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said last month. TPAO, however, has no experience in deep-sea gas production and would likely need to enlist a major oil company to exploit a field. With oil and gas prices having slumped, the economics of developing such a find may be less attractive than in the past.Tuna-1, some 150 kilometers from Turkey’s coast, is close to an area where maritime borders of Bulgaria and Romania converge and not far from Romania’s Neptun block, the largest gas find in the Black Sea in decades discovered eight years ago by Petrom and Exxon.
“This reserve is actually part of a much bigger source. God willing, much more will come,” adding that there would be no stopping until Turkey “becomes a net exporter in energy.”
The country almost completely relies on imports from Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran to meet its energy demands, which stood at $41bn (£32bn) last year.
With any reduction in the energy import bill not only boosting government finances but also help ease chronic current account deficit, which puts pressure on the Lira.
Speaking from the deck of the Faith drillship, Finance minister Berat Albayrak said: “We will remove the current account deficit from the agenda of our country.”
The discovery comes as tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece are running high over oil and gas exploration in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean. Greek and Turkish warships have been shadowing each other after Turkey sent a research ship to look for potential undersea oil and gas deposits. France has also sent ships to monitor the eastern Mediterranean in support of Greece.
Officials and analysts have cautioned that it could take up to a decade for any gas from the Black Sea find to come online, and would need billions of dollars of investment to build up the infrastructure for production and supply.
Turkey has been exploring for hydrocarbons in the Black Sea and in the Mediterranean – where its survey operations in disputed waters have drawn protests from Greece and Cyprus.
The Turkish ship is scheduled to search for energy reserves there until August 23.
Turkey is also at odd with Cyprus over energy exploration around the island. It has dispatched warship-escorted vessels off Cyprus’s coast to drill for gas, insisting that it’s acting to protect its interests and those of Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot government of the ethnically split island has slammed Turkey for encroaching in its waters and economic rights.
The discovery of the natural gas in the Black Sea comes as a welcome respite for the country, which depends on Iran, Iraq and Russia for its energy and is grappling with economic woes. Last year, energy imports cost the country $41 billion.
The Turkish lira has tumbled to record lows this month, fueled by high inflation, a wide current account deficit, and the Turkish government’s push for cheap credit to drive an economy that was already fragile before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.