East Med ‘a lab for Turkey’s exploration activities’

East Med ‘a lab for Turkey’s exploration activities’

Istanbul’s Kadir Has University has for the past four years been conducting a public opinion poll to understand the Turkish society’s energy preferences. The last one conducted last December was made public on June 24.

For the fourth consecutive year the findings show an overwhelming dissatisfaction for the high energy prices. Turkey is among the countries with the highest prices for energy consumption. As a result, society’s interest, information and sensitivity toward the government’s policies on energy has seen an increase over the years. We can especially understand that from the answers given to the question “To what degree are you informed of the energy policies of the party you vote for?”

In 2016 only 8 percent said they were informed. This rate went up to 10 percent in 2017, to 15 percent in 2018 and reached 29 percent in 2019. Similarly, those who said they were not informed of the energy policies of the party they voted for was 75 percent in 2016; this has dropped to 34 percent in 2019.

Another critical question that shows increasing sensitivity to energy policies is “To what degree you take into account the energy policies of your party while voting?” The rate of those who said “I don’t take into account” has seen a consistent decrease between 2016-2019 with 55, 44, 35 and 29. The rate for those who said “I take into account” has seen a striking hike during the same period with 15, 17, 34 and 40.

Four consecutive polls have shown a consistent tendency: Turks are fond of solar and wind energy but won’t yet give up on natural gas.

If they were equal in terms of costs and easy accessibility, Turks top three preferred energy resources rank as wind, solar and natural gas. An overwhelming majority, more than 75 percent, believe solar and wind energy as well as natural gas will remain the top three critical energy sources for Turkey in the future. 

The participants were also asked from which country Turkey should purchase energy. The first three options, Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran, have been seeing a consistent decrease over the years, whereas the option, “buy it from the cheapest supplier” has seen a rise from 1 percent in 2016 to 18 percent in 2019. Similarly, those who said “none of the above, let’s make our own production” has seen a rise from 3 percent to 27 percent.

Nearly 60 percent of the respondents said that Turkey should increase oil and natural gas exploration even if doing so would be costly. 

Support to drilling activities in east Med

Against this backdrop, I asked Professor Volkan Ediger, who heads the research, about his opinion on support levels to Turkey’s exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean, which are objected by several regional and non-regional players. While this question was not asked by the pollsters, Ediger was confident that an overwhelming majority in Turkey would support these drillings, despite the tension they created in the region. 

Ediger gave a spoiler about an upcoming research on the “urban myths,” which are triggered by decades-long feeling of puzzlement among the Turks who keep asking themselves, “while surrounded by oil and gas producing states, how come Turkey lacks these energy resources in its own lands and seas?” As they are not being provided with a scientific explanation, many Turks believe the country sits on a “sea of oil,” but that somehow it has not been able or have been prevented from exploring its natural resources. 

That conviction is also behind Ediger’s view that there would be an overwhelming support toward drilling activities not just in the south but also in the north, in the Black Sea.

A geologist with four decades of experience in the energy sector, Ediger underlined his skepticism about the statements on the potential amounts of reserves in the east Mediterranean. There is not yet clear evidence, according to Ediger, to be hopeful for proven reserves. He is, however, supportive of Turkey’s policies. “I wish we had bought the drilling ships much earlier and started work decades ago,” he said. It does not matter whether there is enough oil or gas to justify these works, according to Ediger. Turkey would learn about exploration technology and accumulate experience. 

“East Mediterranean will be like a laboratory for us,” he said. But for that, it is not enough to buy drilling ships. Turkey has to also invest in science, scientists and research and development, argued Ediger.