Despite Competing Claims, Exxon Begins Drilling off Cyprus

Cypriot offshore lease blocks. Exxon and Qatar Petroleum hold Block 10, adjacent to the Egyptian EEZ.

Published Nov 12, 2018 11:50 AM by The Maritime Executive

ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum are moving ahead with a natural gas exploration campaign off Cyprus, despite heated rhetoric from Turkey about the validity of the island nation's E&P leases. 

A drillship is presently in position to drill at the Exxon-Qatar lease site, named Delphinus, according to Cypriot state media. The national maritime authorities are broadcasting a warning to mariners regarding the vessel's presence and a security zone surrounding it. In addition, Cyprus has defined a security corridor between the drilling site and the Egyptian maritime boundary, which will be jointly patrolled by the naval vessels of several nations - including the United States. The U.S. Navy was also present in Cyprus in March, when Exxon began conducting survey work. 

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last month that Turkey will not permit exploration in waters that are claimed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Cyprus is divided in two, with the southern half aligned with Greece and the northern half aligned with Turkey. Both nations are NATO allies, but the administration of Cyprus has been a source of tension between them since the 1970s, when they fought a war over its control. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

In a recent interview, Exxon SVP Neil Chapman said that the EEZ dispute is solely a question for the nations involved. “We are a commercial entity and our business is about producing and developing natural resources on behalf of governments. Any government issues, that’s for governments to discuss and resolve,” he said. 

In February, Turkish warships obstructed the navigation of the Italian drillship Saipem 12000 in order to prevent her from exploring a lease block licensed by the Republic of Cyprus. Later that month, charterer and leaseholder Eni abandoned its work at the block and sent the drillship to explore a site off western Morocco instead. 

Last month, Turkey launched its own offshore E&P campaign in the eastern Mediterranean. Its first exploration well will be drilled at a location about 35 nm off the town of Alanya, Antalya province, according to Turkish energy minister Fatih Donmez. The area is far from the most hotly-contested region, which is off Cyprus' east coast. 

The Eastern Mediterranean's energy potential is significant. In February, Eni found a new gas deposit off Cyprus which may hold as much as the giant Zohr field, a 30 trillion cubic foot formation located in Egypt's EEZ.