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Turkey's TPAO to start drilling for gas east of Cyprus early July

Istanbul — Turkey's state upstream operator TPAO will start drilling for gas east of Cyprus in early July, within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claimed by the Republic of Cyprus, an official from Turkey's energy ministry told Platts Thursday.

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The official confirmed that TPAO's drillship, the Yavuz, has been anchored off Turkey's Mediterranean port of Antalya since Monday where it took on marine fuel, and confirmed that the vessel will depart "in a few days" for its planned drill site.

The Yavuz left Istanbul June 20, with Turkish energy minister Fatih Donmez announcing in a speech that it was departing to drill east of Cyprus in the Bay of Famagusta, which is within the EEZ claimed by Cyprus, and also that claimed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey.

The vessel had been widely expected to enter Cypriot waters early this week but instead remained close to the Turkish coast and for the past three days has been anchored off Antalya.

DRILLSHIP DIPLOMACY

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is attending the G20 summit in Osaka Thursday along with EU leaders, where he is expected to meet with US President Donald Trump. Ankara may have decided to delay drilling to avoid an international incident during the summit.

News of the vessel's departure prompted a strong reaction from the European Commission, which warned it would "stand in full solidarity with Cyprus" and respond appropriately, including unspecified "targeted measures."

Ankara has yet to answer the warning, but previously responded strongly to an EU statement following the commencement of drilling by TPAO's first drillship, the Fatih. The EU described the move as being "within Cyprus' exclusive economic zone" and "illegal action."

Turkey's foreign ministry said the delineation of EEZs can be achieved either through bilateral agreements or by recourse to the International Court of Justice, but cannot be declared unilaterally.

The Fatih began drilling on May 3, 70 km west of the island in a region claimed by both the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey as part of their respective EEZs.

RAISED TENSIONS

The commencement of drilling within Cyprus' EEZ by TPAO's second drill ship is widely expected to raise tensions in the region, which over the past 18 months has been the scene of several confrontations between Turkish and Cypriot naval vessels as well as ships from the Greek navy.

Any future confrontation could be lengthy. The plans are for the Yavuz to drill just one well to a depth of 3,300m, a process which officials say will take around three months.

TPAO's seismic survey vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa has been surveying south of the island in the area of Cyprus' exploration blocks 1, 8, 9 and 12 for the past few months, raising fears that Ankara may also be planning to drill one or more of those blocks.

Block 1 is currently unallocated, while block 8 is held by Eni which has yet to conduct drilling. Block 9 has been drilled by an Eni-Kogas consortium but no commercial volumes were found, and block 12 is held by a consortium of Noble Energy, Shell, Delek and Avner and contains the Aphrodite gas field believed to contain around 200 Bcm of gas reserves.

-- David O'Byrne, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Burgess, newsdesk@spglobal.com