A recent discovery of significant natural gas reserves within the Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Black Sea was the main topic of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s speech on August 21.

During a televised press conference from the Presidential Complex in Ankara, the Turkish President announced that the drilling vessel Fatih had discovered the largest-to-date energy reserve in Turkish territory. This statement comes at a crucial moment for the Turkish economy and the security and energy landscape in the region.

Erdogan Announces the ‘Good News’

On Wednesday August 19, Erdogan delivered a promising speech in the opening ceremony of the Kalyon Solar Technologies newest giga-facility in Ankara. Erdogan mentioned that he was to announce some very good news by Friday, regarding a development which would bring about a new era for Turkey.

Shortly after his statement, speculations around the context of the upcoming good news have been circulating; a Bloomberg report confirmed by Wednesday evening that the “good news” was related to a significant discovery by a Turkey in an energy field in the Black Sea.

The pre-announcement has partially eased the pressure on the Turkish lira, which momentarily gained more than 2% against US dollar; however the actual statement two days later, has reversed the gains, indicating that the estimations around the energy reserves which Erdogan made public during his Friday speech did not meet the expectations.

The natural gas reserves in Black Sea’s Tuna-1 zone could reportedly be approximately 11.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf), or 320 billion cubic meters (bcm). According to Erdogan, this could be just a part of the total reserves in this energy field and could eventually be the catalyst to turn Turkey to a net gas exporter and a substantial energy hub in the wider region.

A Morale Boost for the Struggling Turkish Economy and a Very Optimistic Prediction

The Turkish President has tried to over-emphasize the discovery and imply that this would be game-changer for the Turkish economy, at a moment that both the short-term and macro-economic indicators seems rather grim for Ankara. Erdogan has also stressed the role of his son-in-law and current Minister of Finance and Treasury of Turkey Berat Albayrak. Before his appointment in the Ministry of Finance, Albayrak has served as the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources from 2015 to 2018, and has taken critical steps regarding the exploitation of the recent discovery and the nationalization of the country’s energy industry.

Erdogan has also tried to present a rather too optimistic time-plan for the exploitation of the resources, since he stated that by 2023 the reserves could be fully exploited and natural gas would be available to the domestic and international markets. The fact is that 2023 is a year of particular significance for the Turkish President since it coincides with the centenary of the Republic of Turkey.

Erdogan’s 2023 vision is a personal political bet, as the Turkish President would like to make a direct comparison with the founder of the Turkish Republic Kemal Ataturk and prove that his neo-Ottoman strategy has been much more beneficial for the Turkish people than the Kemalist legacy.

According to experts of the energy industry, gas reserves normally take four to seven years from the time of discovery until the phase of final extraction, and in the case of the latest Turkish discovery, analysts said that this time-frame could be even longer, up to 10 years. We can easily see that the claims of the Turkish President are over-optimistic and primarily aimed at serving his current political agenda.

Comparing Tuna-1 with other Natural Gas Reserves in the Region

In order to gain a clearer idea of the recent discovery it’s worth taking a quick look into other significant discoveries of energy reserves in the region over the past few years. To achieve a better understanding of the sizes we will also refer to the current population of each country, so we can set some very basic parameters for a more accurate comparison.

It’s important to mention once again here that the current estimations regarding Tuna-1 suggest that the reserve holds approximately 11.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. However it has not been clarified yet whether this the recoverable or the overall amount of the field. Turkey has a population of approximately 83 million.

Back in 2010, Israel discovered the massive Leviathan reserve. Leviathan is the largest gas reserve in Israel and holds approximately 22 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. Leviathan delivered gas to the domestic market not earlier than 2019. Israel is a country of approximately 9 million.

In 2015, Egypt discovered the largest natural gas field in the Mediterranean, the well-known Zohr. Zohr holds an estimated amount of more than 30 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. By 2019, Zohr achieved a daily production of 2.7 billion cubic feet per day, and Egypt has a total population of approximately 100 million.

Finally the island country of Cyprus, discovered the Glafkos field in 2019. Glafkos is expected to deliver between 5 and 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, an impressive amount for the small country with a population of only 1.2 million.

From the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean

The discovery of the natural gas field in the Black Sea comes at a critical moment for Turkey. Since late July, Ankara has attracted much attention, due to the controversial seismic research activities within parts of the Greek continental shelf.

Erdogan is seeking to establish a wide energy zone spanning from the Eastern Mediterranean all the way up to the Black Sea. The combination of grandiose announcements — in the case of Black Sea — and hybrid methods to create a de facto situation in the case of Eastern Mediterranean all fall within the same plan.

Erdogan’s ambitious strategy is to showcase Turkey as a remarkable regional energy hub and a unique energy corridor in a strategic crossroads between the East and the West.

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