New Gas Pipeline Deal Gives Europe Access To Eastern Mediterranean Reserves, Angering Turkey

Europe

Greece, Israel and Cyprus today signed an agreement to build an undersea pipeline to ferry natural gas from offshore fields in the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, a project that would ease the European Union’s energy dependence on Russia. 

Yet the agreement has angered Turkey. Although itself an energy importer, Turkey is a key transit nation for supplies of Russian natural gas on their way to Europe, giving Turkey a source of leverage over Europe. New sources of European energy supply undermine that influence. 

The 1,300-mile “EastMed pipeline” will connect recently discovered gas fields beneath the sea floor of the southeastern Mediterranean to Greece, and from Greece to a nexus of energy pipelines in Italy that feeds Europe. Estimated to cost around €6 billion, the EastMed line would supply around 4%, or an initial 10 billion cubic meters, of the European Union’s annual natural gas imports. EU countries currently meet around 40% of their natural gas import needs with gas from Russia. 

Officials signed the agreement after a meeting in Athens by Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades. 

EastMed isn’t set to be completed until the mid-2020s. Its developer, IGI Poseidon, a joint venture consisting of Greek state-owned supplier Depa and Italian gas utility Edison, said in December that it would make a final investment decision within two years. 

Europe’s dependence on energy has already been curbed slightly in recent years by rapidly growing exports of natural gas from the US. (Natural gas can be stored aboard tankers as a liquid when cooled to around -260° Fahrenheit before being reconverted into gas.) But that still leaves Europe, which lacks significant gas resources of its own, heavily dependent on imports from Russia and other countries such as Norway and Qatar. The European Union considers EastMed vital to energy security and has fast-tracked its permitting process. 

Cut out of EastMed and other gas supply deals in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey is staunchly opposed to the project. It chafes at having its role as an energy supplier to the European Union undermined. 

“[T]he most economical and safe route for the transmission [of natural gas] to consumer markets in Europe, including our country, is Turkey,” said Hami Aksoy, a spokesperson for the Turkish foreign ministry. Aksoy accused the contracting parties of a “vicious” political ploy to isolate Turkey, where it has a long-running territorial dispute with EU member Cyprus. 

Last month, in a move seen as trying to shore up its regional influence, Turkey redrew its maritime boundaries with Libya, angering a host of countries. The move could pose questions for the export of natural gas through the EastMed pipeline, since it would need to cross through a Turkish and Libyan economic zone. 

The redrawn maritime boundaries are part of an aggressive regional foreign policy by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party. Turkey’s exploration of hydrocarbon resources offshore Cyprus has drawn condemnation from the European Union, while a vote this week by Turkey’s parliament to send troops to Libya drew a warning from US president Donald Trump, who opposes more involvement there. 

Unless Ankara changes tack, it could be a preview things still to come. A windfall of natural gas reserves has been steadily uncovered offshore Egypt, Israel and Cyprus over the past decade, including the most recent discovery, a field called Glaucus, this year. The region’s complicated politics mean that countries might struggle to agree on plans to get the gas out of the ground. 

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