Turkey warns int’l companies over Cyprus gas drilling plans

May 18, 2012, Friday/ 18:16:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Turkey gave a warning on Friday to major international oil and gas companies currently seeking licenses from Greek Cyprus to search for oil and gas reserves off Cyprus against proceeding with their bids, saying it will not allow exploration in disputed areas.

Russia's Novatec, Italy's ENI, France's Total and Malaysia's Petronas are among 15 firms and consortiums seeking licenses to carry out exploratory drilling off southern Cyprus despite Turkey's strong objections.

The Greek Cypriot government launched a tender for international bids in a second round of licensing and is currently in the process of assessing the bids. Turkey says the areas to be explored under the second round of licensing are disputed: Turkey says some of the areas to the west of the island are within its own continental shelf while some areas to the south of the Greek Cypriot coasts have already been designated by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) government as sites to be explored by the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPAO). Turkey said the international companies concerned should withdraw their bids because of the disputed nature of the areas in question. “Future operations of international oil companies in these areas may result in confrontation between the KKTC and TPAO, resulting in the emergence of undesired tensions,” a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. “As announced earlier, Turkey will offer every kind of support to the KKTC.”

“We call on the countries concerned and the oil companies to act with common sense, not to engage in activities in maritime fields under dispute due to the Cyprus issue and to withdraw from the bidding,” the statement said.

It also warned that the companies that collaborate with Greek Cyprus would not be allowed to join energy projects in Turkey.

In addition to opposing the Greek Cypriot plans in the name of defending its sovereign rights in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey says the Greek Cypriot plans to distribute licenses to international companies to search for hydrocarbon reserves also violate Turkish Cypriot rights. Cyprus is divided into a Turkish north run by the KKTC and a Greek south. The Greek Cypriot government is internationally recognized to represent the entire island, though not by Turkey.

The Foreign Ministry underlined that Turkish Cypriots have equal and inherent claims on the entire natural resources of the island. “The two peoples of the island should decide on how to use the off-shore natural resources,” the ministry said.

“We [Turkey] protest this unilateral step, which is both irresponsible and provocative, taken by the Greek Cypriots despite all warnings,” it said.

Ministry emphasized that unilateral steps to be taken by the Greek Cypriot administration would inevitably lead to an escalation of tension in the region.

On Thursday, Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Hüseyin Özgürgün warned of more tensions over hydrocarbon drilling in the eastern Mediterranean after reports that the Greek Cypriot administration is assessing international bids for hydrocarbon drilling.

Özgürgün said the TPAO has already been given the license by the Turkish Cypriot government to drill in some of the areas subject to the latest round of licensing by the Greek Cypriot administration. “Those who cooperate with the Greek Cypriot administration should know that they would operate in a disputed area,” Özgürgün said.

The statement underlined that Turkey, as previously stated, will under no circumstances allow foreign companies to conduct unauthorized oil/natural gas exploration and exploitation activities in these areas and will take all necessary measures to protect its rights and interests in the maritime areas falling within its continental shelf.

Last September, the KKTC government gave an exploration license to TPAO to explore oil and natural gas around the island of Cyprus. TPAO, with a license from the KKTC government, began onshore exploratory drilling for oil and gas in Turkish Cyprus in April, a move protested by the Greek Cypriot government.

Turkey, which sent troops to Cyprus in the wake of a coup backed by the Greek military junta to unite Cyprus with Greece in 1974, still maintains some 35,000 troops in the Turkish-run north of the island. UN-backed efforts to reunite the Turkish and Greek zones of the island have failed repeatedly.

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