Perils of Turkey’s Newfound Black Gold in the Black Sea

Perils of Turkey’s Newfound Black Gold in the Black Sea

Turkey seems to be blessed with prospects of large deposits of “black gold” -petroleum-rich basins deep underneath continental shelves in its territorial waters of the Black Sea. According to OECD World Energy Outlook “deep-offshore Black Sea is generally credited with 7 billion barrels of recoverable resources." This can greatly help Turkey’s Gross National Product as well as the diversity and security of its energy supply.

However, these reservoirs are typically located in depths of more than 2000 meters, requiring “ultra-deepwater” drilling to dig to a depth of over 5000 meters, which could pose serious safety and environmental risks. The recently drilled well by Brazilian oil company Petrobras in the Samsun basin off the coast of Sinop, is ranked by the Journal of Petroleum Technology, “of the highest complexity…(that) usually involves high risks and several associated problems.”
While exploiting its natural recourse, Turkey should not sit quietly and wait; it must get ready and to proactively address all safety and environmental-related challenges of offshore drilling.

The catastrophic explosion and sinking of the BP Deepwater Horizon offshore rig while drilling the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, killed 11 and seriously injured 16 workers. Almost 5 million barrels of crude oil spilled into the waters for nearly 3 months, contaminated large expanses of coastal areas, migrated into the ocean’s food chain, and caused more than “tens of billions of dollars” damages.

A thorough report published by a 15-member interdisciplinary Committee of experts of the United States National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council “Macondo Well–Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Improving Offshore Drilling Safety” (Dec 2011), identified root causes of this accident and developed a series of recommendations that would reduce the likelihood of a similar event in the future. The central theme of this study revolves around the “system safety” approach and it also emphasizes the vital role of safety culture for the drilling company and its government regulators.

The Government of Turkey should urgently update and strengthen its offshore oil drilling safety and environmental enforcement and oversight regulatory regimes. This can start by creating a high-level interagency Task Force, chaired by the Prime Minister, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with membership primarily from domestic experts to codify recommendations from the Deepwater Horizon accident into Turkish regulations. This revamped regulatory regime should become as independent as possible from the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), whose primary missions are to promote the development of energy sector.

Moreover, Turkey, under the auspices of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, should lead the effort for creation of the Black Sea Well Containment Organization to provide robust well containment, should a (well) loss of control occur during drilling or production.

As the renowned Spanish-American Philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Turkey should remember the offshore drilling past mishaps, prepare for all contingencies and not “sit quietly and wait.”

Dr. Najmedin Meshkati is a Professor of engineering at the University of Southern California (USC); Dr. Gulben Calis, is a post-doctoral research scholar in civil engineering at USC; and Mr. Aydin Celebi is a sophomore engineering student and research assistant at USC. A copy of the above-mentioned NAE/NRC Committee report can be obtained from the following website of the National Academies Press: