Israel gas may flow to Turkey via Turkish Cyprus
The need to transport natural gas found off of Israel to EU markets was one of the main motivations for the normalization deal between Israel and Turkey, reached on June 26.
The numbers tell that the gas factor was more of a pushing factor for Israel than it was for Turkey. It seems that gas from Israel will provide middle term source-diversification for Turkey, besides the more important political meaning that will come with economic interdependence.
An Israeli source, who requested anonymity, told the Hurriyet Daily News that the total reservoir of the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields was estimated to be around 900 billion cubic meters (bcm), some 150 bcm of which is planned for exports. “That could bring in important revenue for the Israeli economy,” the source said. “But because we have not been able to find ways to reach the markets, companies have not yet been able to invest enough to develop the fields further.”
Nevertheless, two companies - Noble and Delek - are the major contractors for exploration, drilling and production of gas from the two fields. The Israeli authorities have found that selling the gas through a pipeline to be constructed to Turkey would be the most feasible way to do this.
There is an EU study on carrying the gas to Cyprus, then onto either the island of Crete or mainland Greece, since the Greek Cypriot government wants to export gas from its own fields. Feasibility studies show that building Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants for naval transportation would not be profitable.
A Cyprus-Greece route would need to construct a pipeline of more than 1,100 km, which would pass through the open Mediterranean Sea, partly at depths of 3,000 meters. On the other hand, a pipeline from Israeli gas fields to Turkey’s oil and gas terminal of Ceyhan would mean a pipeline of just 485 km through the relatively shallow waters of the East Mediterranean.
In this case, the Israeli-Turkish gas pipeline will have to pass through the economic maritime zone of the Turkish Cypriot government. “This may upset our Greek Cypriot friends, but this is an important economic project for us and we have to be rational. This is the shortest route,” my Israeli source said.
But there is still another option, as considered by Israeli planners.
Depending on the future of ongoing talks between the Greek and Turkish governments on divided Cyprus, a pumping station could be built on the island to collect both Cypriot and Israeli gas and deliver it to Turkey through a single pipeline. Girne, on the northern shores of Turkish Cyprus, is around 100 km from the Turkish industrial port of Mersin, which is another 120 km from Ceyhan. The southern shores of Turkish Cyprus are only 200 km away from Israeli gas fields. Such a possibility would increase both the economic and political value of the gas exports, since it would depend on good relations between the political authorities on both sides of Cyprus. Once a reunification deal is reached in Cyprus, the gas fields in the Greek south and the Turkish north of the island could be used for the good of both communities.
The U.S. has been pushing hard for a Cyprus deal under the auspices of the United Nations, as well as a deal between Turkey and Israel - its two main allies in the East Mediterranean and the Middle East.
The diversification of gas resources for Turkey and the EU means less gas being bought from Russia. Every cubic meter to be bought from Israeli and Cypriot fields (and Egyptian, too) would be subtracted from Russian exports. On the other hand, if Turco-Russian normalization process proceeds further, the Russians could reactivate the new South Stream project to sell gas to EU markets via another pipeline through Turkey and the Turkish economic zone in the Black Sea, in order to meet the increasing demand in Europe.
Will all these projects manage to help bring about a solution to the civil war in Syria, which borders both Israel and Turkey, and which has the heavy involvement of Russia, the U.S. and Iran? For that, we will have to closely monitor how Turkish-Russian normalization evolves.