The emergence in discoveries of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean has set-in motion a series of economic and political unraveling for the countries in the region. It is common understanding that the region has a huge amount of gas reserves stored and since the 1990s the search for the hydrocarbon has increased in significance. Various countries within the Eastern Mediterranean have undergone explorations of their exclusive economic zone waters in search of hydrocarbons. While some have come out with findings that fall within the waters, others have come out with findings that are within disputed blocks that have led to rising tensions. The discoveries have led to the increase in tensions in existing conflicts such as the Turkish-Cypriot dispute, the Israeli-Turkish conflict and the Israeli-Arab conflict. The political stability within the region and inter-state relations were shaken up and experienced further complications after the 2011 Arab spring revolution that led to a widespread governmental change in the region. Findings of oil and gas in various geographical parts of the Mediterranean such as the Cyprus basin, the Nile basin, and the Levant Basin signifies that the countries are in search of various sources of the resources instead of one source. The vacuum in diplomatic relations between nations such as Lebanon-Israel, Turkey-Cyprus, Greece-Turkey, and Egypt-Israel have throttled the plans of developments, and any possible growth of the region as a single group. The recent discovery of hydrocarbons in the waters of Cyprus has led to the flaring of tensions between Turkey and Cyprus. Tensions between both nations is based on historical developments and the extensive debate of the rights of the Republic of Cyprus on its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The EEZ calculations and explanation is found and came to be through the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that went into effect in 1994. Two countries have not signed the UNCLOS agreement, Turkey, and Israel. Even though Turkey and Israel have not signed the UNCLOS agreement, the zones are mentioned within international customary law.
It was back in 2001 when Cyprus launched the exploration project with the understanding that the Cypriot waters might contain a significant number of gas and oil resources. Various international companies have obtained licenses to begin exploration and the excavation of the waters in search of gas. The Republic of Cyprus began negotiations with bordering countries concerning its EEZ and the extraction of resources. Cyprus reached an agreement with Lebanon and Syria concerning the borders, but the agreement got delayed and was influenced by the position of Turkey which objected to the agreements negotiated with Cyprus. Turkey’s position on the matter is heavily influenced by the historical conflict. Since 1974, a Turkish backed enclave has been claiming independence under a self-declared name of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) from the Republic of Cyprus. The breakaway state has only been recognized by Turkey. Since Turkey is the only country that recognizes the breakaway state of the TRNC, it has taken up the responsibility of acting on behalf of the state on an international level. Turkey has repeatedly challenged Cyprus’s rights to declare an EEZ as well as to conduct agreements with surrounding countries. Throughout 2007, Turkey launched a strong objection to the borders that were drawn as the Cypriot – Lebanese EEZ borders. An agreement between Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus delineated their continental shelves and launched an independent gas exploration in the region. The Republic of Cyprus protested the Turkish exploration on the grounds of violation to the Republic’s own EEZ.
Ankara has responded negatively to the developments that have been taking place in the Republic of Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognize. In September 2011 the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had informed the IOCs that they would be excluded from any project that involved energy in Turkey if they were to engage within the Cyprus pipeline project. The Turkish upstream has been becoming more attacking to the IOCs.
The Turkish concerns and arguments that they have developed in order to counter and block the hydrocarbon exploration in the Mediterranean, Turkey came up with four concerns that are conflicting points. The first point is that the Republic of Cyprus is expected to share the profits that it generates and gains from these hydrocarbons with the Turkish Cypriots that are located in the breakaway state. The second point was that the Republic of Cyprus does not have the right to represent the Turkish Cypriots, the Republic cannot act on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots, in addition the Republic of Cyprus does not have the right and the legal authority to negotiate any E&P agreements that includes the areas that are controlled by the government that are situated in the South. Thirdly the EEZ delimitations of the Republic of Cyprus that are set to the west and the southwest are incorrect in addition, the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus falls and clashes with the Turkish Cypriot continental shelf. The clashing of the continental shelf for Turkey means that the Republic of Cyprus is currently violating the rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The first two points that Turkey made stated that the revenues that were the product of the Cypriot hydrocarbons must be shared equally with the Turkish Cypriots. In February 2012, the Turkish foreign ministry had issued a statement which went after the second licensing rounds calling it a unilateral step of the Greek Cypriot Administration. The process was considered undermining to the Turkish Cypriots and undermines the United Nations peace process. While Turkey has been issuing the conditions, the Cypriot President Christofias had already stated in his agreement that the Republic of Cyprus will be sharing the profits of the hydrocarbons with the Turkish Cypriot community, the agreement that the President signed was approved by the United Kingdom government that is also a guarantor of power in the island. Turkey still insisted that the Republic of Cyprus lacked the authority to negotiate any E&P agreements that are in the name of the entire island and cannot even conduct any agreement for the territories that fall within the areas of the government in the south.
Concerning the third point that is the EEZ delimitations, the Turkish position on the matter is that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea cannot apply to Cyprus. The reasoning behind it is that Cyprus is small in terms of geographic form, in addition to the state that it is an island. Another reasoning is the geographical positioning that Turkey is finding itself in. The Mediterranean is not big enough and Turkey is finding itself self-enclosed. The Turkish government claims that Cyprus’s reach to its west that is under Turkey cannot be more than 12 nautical miles off the coast of the island. Additionally, the Turkish government is proceeding with the understanding and an assumption of a demarcation with Egypt that is present at the intersection line “median line” that is found between the two countries. That same understanding is not shared by Egypt. Egypt has not entered in any agreement with Turkey and is not recognized, as well as it is refuted by the EEZ delimitation agreement of 2003 that is between Egypt and Cyprus. The agreement between Egypt and Cyprus has gone into effect.
The Republic of Cyprus has even received international support from other countries when it came to the topic of the EEZ and the Turkish position. Countries such as the United States, Russia and the European Union have all shown support for the Republic of Cyprus. In September 2011, the office of the High Representative of the Union of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union had openly urged Ankara to refrain from any threat, friction or any action that could negatively affect the good relations and the border disputes. In addition, as a follow up in December 2011 the European People’s Party, a center-right party within the European Parliament, supported the right of Cyprus to proceed with any exploratory drillings that it wants to conduct within its own waters, as well as it condemned any actions that Turkey was planning on taking. The European Union was called upon to develop hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Republic of Cyprus has shown interest in becoming a natural gas exporter as soon as the internal market in Cyprus has been satisfied. The construction scheme is expected to be completed and therefore natural gas becomes available in Cyprus. Once natural gas becomes available in Cyprus and the domestic needs of the island have been successfully satisfied, the Republic of Cyprus could proceed with several options. The first option involves the building of a gas pipeline to mainland Europe through Greece. The second option would involve Cyprus building a gas pipeline to mainland Turkey. The third option involves a different plan that focuses on constructing a liquefaction facility domestically, or the fourth plan is a joint liquefaction with Israel.