Turkey Scares French, Italian Companies from Cypriot Energy Drilling

(Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool, FILE)

Apparently frightened away by Turkish warnings to stop drilling, France’s Total and Italy’s Eni energy companies said they would not proceed in Cypriot sovereign waters, opening the way for Turkey to continue or expand its unlawful operations there.

The US company ExxonMobil, also drilling in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with ships from the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, hasn’t stopped despite the threats from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who sent warships there before to protect Turkish vessels.

While media reports from Cyprus said the official reason for the French and Italian companies to cease drilling was “contractual obligations,” Kathimerini and the business newspaper Naftemporiki said Turkish provocations was the real reason, with Total and Eni going to move their hunt to areas other than the blocks were they had already been licensed.

Turkey does not recognize parts of the Cypriot EEZ and has refused calls from the legitimate government, as well as Greece and the United States and defied soft EU sanctions to continue although one of its drill ships moved away from the area earlier.

The Total-Eni consortium’s drilling activities in the EEZ will shift to blocks that are more likely to yield results at this time, according to reports, with sources not named telling Kathimerini that the group will start drilling at the end of 2020 or early 2021 instead of continuing now, giving Erdogan what he wanted.

Total-Eni will start conducting drilling activities in blocks 6 and 8, where it has more research data to work with and an unidentified Cypriot government source telling Sigma TV that “the consortium will launch new exploration work at the point or points that they consider will yield better results at this time,” apparently trying to spin why it backed off for now.

The decision has reportedly raised questions as to whether the consortium’s plans are the result of Turkey’s opposition to drilling activities in Block 7, the paper said. Last year, an Eni ship veered off after a warning from a Turkish warship it could be sunk otherwise.

At an event last month in Rome, Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi said he was not worried about Turkey’s moves but noted that “if someone turns up with warships, I won’t drill wells,” adding, “I certainly don’t want to start wars for wells,” showing he was worried after all.