Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Turkey needs a Cyprus crisis, part two

Michalis Economides, professor of chemical engineering at Houston University, has written an informed piece on the practicalities – rather than the geopolitics – of the natural gas issue as it is developing regarding Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean. It was originally published here, and I’ve posted it in full below.

A point that emerges from Economides’ article relates to something I mentioned in the piece I posted a couple of days on the limited options available to Turkey in trying to stop Cyprus exploring for natural gas in its Exclusive Economic Zone.

In my post, I said Turkey’s claim that it would set up a rival drilling operation around Cyprus was laughable, partly because of the illegality and partly because Turkey lacks the resources and expertise.

Economides makes my point in this way:

‘There is almost a sadistic irony that natural gas of the size being contemplated can be so close and yet so far if the right decisions and the right knowledge are not evident. The size of the resource would require tens of billions of euros. The cost will involve the field development with very expensive wells and facilities and, especially, if LNG will be deployed. In all cases it will take huge companies to do it. Nobody should have the fantasy that the state should or could do it.’

Also in my post, I said Turkey was pushing Egypt (and Lebanon) to cancel its EEZ delineation deal with Cyprus; but I note today that Egypt’s foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr told his visiting Greek counterpart, Stavros Lambrinides, that Egypt would not go back on the agreement it has signed with Cyprus.

Both the above points give added weight to my original assessment, which was that Turkey’s most likely option regarding Cyprus’ EEZ is to escalate tension, in the hope that the US or EU will intervene diplomatically to stop Cyprus, or that Cyprus/Greece will be provoked into a military confrontation, which Turkey sees itself as winning.

Cyprus oil and gas, by Micahlis Economides
The January 2011 announced discovery of some of the largest offshore natural gas reservoirs in the world, 90 kilometers west of Haifa and not much further than that from Cyprus has created some understandable excitement among Cypriots. The potential for large hydrocarbon accumulations in the same Messinian geologic formation, underlain Cypriot economic zone waters, should now be considered as high possibility. Seismic evidence makes the Cypriot block, named Aphrodite, currently being drilled by Houston’s Noble Energy, to be at least as good and perhaps as much as 50% better than Israel’s Leviathan field. The latter has been confirmed as holding at least 17 Tcf of natural gas.

It is a dream of so many countries to find oil and gas deposits: easy riches the notion goes, a chance to even the field versus big and powerful nations. However, in spite of the occasional jubilation in some parts of the Cypriot and Greek press and thinly disguised wishful thinking by government officials and politicians a dose of reality is in order.


First, this is undeniably good news. The discovery in Israeli-controlled waters is a clear and positive sign. But what are often missed in the debate are two other important elements that turn the good news into not so good and even bad if countries are unprepared or inexperienced.

There is a big disparity between oil and gas in place in a geological structure and having those resources labeled as recoverable reserves. The latter implies technical and economic attractiveness. Hydrocarbons buried under 2,000 meters of water and then another 5,000 meter beneath the bottom of the sea are far more attractive when the price of oil approaches $150 per barrel as it was in July 2008.


Natural gas is even more cumbersome because it cannot be handled readily as oil can and, therefore, its exploitation is even more tenuous. To understand this issue one needs to realize that in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and of more recently emerging offshore Brazil, while oil production has been prolific, virtually no natural gas deposits have been targeted. Gas associated with oil has been produced but in most cases it is used for re-injection to augment oil production and not for sales.


The second issue and one that is likely to prove challenging is that a pipeline from the area of discovery to e.g., Europe is highly unlikely because of the water depth and the underwater terrain. This means that the transportation of gas will have to employ conversion into liquid natural gas (LNG) and, in early time, perhaps compressed natural gas (CNG) transportation.

There is almost a sadistic irony that natural gas of the size being contemplated can be so close and yet so far if the right decisions and the right knowledge are not evident. The size of the resource would require tens of billions of euros. The cost will involve the field development with very expensive wells and facilities and, especially, if LNG will be deployed. In all cases it will take huge companies to do it. Nobody should have the fantasy that the state should or could do it.


There are also plenty of examples from afar to the neighborhood of the difficulty to match local resources with local needs. Trinidad in the Caribbean is a major source of LNG for the US but huge parts of the island have no access to gas. Egypt, a major new player in LNG is faced with increasing local discontent. Cairo and its almost 30 million inhabitants have no gas. If Cyprus wants to use natural gas for its electricity a very viable option would be to buy relatively cheap CNG from Israel.

Greece now gearing up for its own exploration program should take an intense interest in the Cypriot experience and learn from it. For Cyprus the tantalizing and difficult dilemma will emerge after all that gas is proven. The geopolitical re-alignment in Eastern Mediterranean will be a yet another issue and the subject of a forthcoming editorial.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.defencegreece.com/index.php/2011/10/turkish-exploration-comes-a-cropper-off-cyprus/

Anonymous said...

Did anyone read Jack straws comment sucking up to Turkey once more. What a turd its like he is lobbying for a lobby position with the Turkish government. I hope this guy just disapears.

ted

John Akritas said...

Straw was foreign secretary during the Annan fiasco – and obviously David Hannay's boss (Hannay being the man who dreamed up the Annan plan) so one can only imagine that Tassos not going along with it all has embittered this odious little man, one of the most despised in British politics, it has to be said.

As for the Piri Reis, it is funny; but it does tell us how important it is not to go along with the bullying, bluster and delusions of the Turks. I remember them threatening to annex northern Cyprus if we joined the EU, but they did nothing. Cyprus seems to have the ability to face down the Turks, I don't know why Greece is so supine.

lastgreek said...

Cyprus seems to have the ability to face down the Turks ...

Interestingly, it was two Greek monks from Cyprus who had the ability to face down the previous government of Greece, which ulitmately brought its demise.

Does anyone here want to venture a guess as to what Angelou, friend and former assistant to Karamanli, may have said in his confession to said monks? It surely must have been very kinky :-)