Are there any real prospects of redesigning the energy routes in the region?
Greek media reported that Egypt’s announcement of holding a tender for hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean by recognizing the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) demarcated by Turkey could be a sign of a possible agreement between Ankara and Cairo on the issue.
Anastassios Tsiplacos - Managing Editor
UPDATE 3: Egypt issues new map of EEZ
Egypt’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources has issued a new map of exploration blocks that will be put to a tender.
The map reassigns the position of block EGY-MED-W18 so that it does not extend beyond the 28th meridian and stays within the boundaries of Egypt’s designation of its exclusive economic zone.
The new map comes in the wake of a meeting in Cairo on Monday between Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, where the technical details of EGY-MED-W18 were discussed.
Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias said that the issue that has arisen by Egypt’s recent start of a bid round for exploration and exploitation of oil and natural gas in 24 blocks is a “purely technical matter” that Greece considers as “essentially resolved.”
“The issue raised by the Egyptian side’s recent announcement of blocks in the Eastern Mediterranean is a purely technical matter which concerns the Egyptian side,” Dendias said in a meeting with Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides in Larnaca on Monday. “Based on the posts of the Egyptian side, the Greek side considers the issue essentially resolved,” he added.
During the Dendias-Shoukry meeting, it was clarified that there was absolutely no discussion on the delimitation of the EEZ between Egypt and Turkey. Egypt and Turkey did not engage in any talks about the demarcation of maritime zones between the two nations
The meeting also focused on the multifaceted close relations between Greece and Egypt, as well as the recent regional developments, following the positive impetus of the “Friendship Forum” for regional stability and cooperation that took place in Greece.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian foreign affairs ministry issued a statement, after the meeting, referring to Egypt’s interest in facilitating the flow of Greek investments in the country.
UPDATE 2: In the wake of concern over recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is heading to Cairo on Monday and then Nicosia.
More specifically, Greek concerns stem from the possible geopolitical implications of Egypt’s recent moves in the region and the possible change in the pipeline map in the Eastern Mediterranean. In view of this, Athens and Nicosia are looking at ways to remain in the game.
With regard to Egypt, the focus is on the recent tender announcement from the Egyptian Oil Ministry. The western blocks in the announcement have been drawn up based on the agreement for the delimitation of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between Greece and Egypt, last August. However, a block located east of the 28th meridian follows the southern borders of the Turkish continental shelf, as outlined in the verbal communication to the United Nations on November 13, 2019. Turkey this week said it was positive that Egypt “respected” its continental shelf.
The second issue concerns the recent initial agreement between Egyptian and Israeli companies for a pipeline between the two countries. The plan, which has not yet been formalized at the state level, foresees the transport of natural gas by Chevron and Delek, which manages the Leviathan field. The deal could also be a harbinger of another project, stipulating the extension of the pipeline west of Egypt and from there to Greece.
The third concerns Cyprus and the EastMed pipeline, as it is clear that the unresolved Cyprus issue and Turkey’s rise to power in the Eastern Mediterranean is pushing the only players in the region with proven large amounts of gas, such as Egypt (Zohr deposit) and Israel (Leviathan and Tamar) to look at alternative scenarios.
The possibility of activating alternative pipelines would marginalize the EastMed project, which, in any case, already faced enormous implementation difficulties.
UPDATE 1: President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi received a phone call from Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis yesterday evening.
The Spokesman for the Egyptian Presidency stated that President El-Sisi and the Greek Prime Minister discussed close bilateral relations between the two countries in various fields, especially cooperation in the field of energy and eastern Mediterranean issues.
The Greek Prime Minister expressed his keenness to exchange views and hold consultations with President El-Sisi on regional issues of common interest. He stressed the importance of mutual coordination in this regard, especially in the field of energy and the Eastern Mediterranean files, in a way that would contribute to achieving the interests of the two friendly peoples at the bilateral level or within the framework of the trilateral cooperation mechanism between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus.
For his part, President El-Sisi affirmed the strong, distinguished relations between the two countries and Egypt’s pride in the cooperation relations it has with Greece. His added that the bilateral cooperation relations are promoted in light of the common positions and interests between the two countries at the regional level.
In this regard, President El-Sisi stressed Egypt’s aspiration to advance various aspects of that constructive cooperation, especially at the economic, security and military levels and in the energy fields
Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) and Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS), the state-held oil and gas firms, launched a tender for the country’s new oil and gas exploration bid round. Last summer, Eni, BP, and Total said they had successfully tested a new natural gas discovery in Egypt’s shallow waters. Egypt is now looking to award additional acreage for exploration, a month after signing nine exploration agreements for offshore oil and gas exploration with some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world.
Greek daily “Kathimerini” and news website “Liberal” said over the weekend that in the eastern zone of the tender map, Egypt has paid attention to the continental shelf notified by Turkey to the United Nations, after the agreement between Turkey and Libya in November 2019. Both media said that Cairo’s move could be interpreted as its reservation to get involved in the controversy about the Turkish-Greek continental shelf in the region, especially around Cyprus.
They also said that even though this move would not refer to an immediate reconciliation, Cairo left an open door to Ankara for future talks by implementing such a move.
The Turkey-Libya deal on maritime delimitation has provided an ambiguous legal framework to prevent any fait accompli by regional states. The agreement also supposedly confirmed that Turkey and Libya are maritime neighbors. The delimitation starts from Fethiye-Marmaris-Kaş on Turkey’s southwestern coast and extends to the Derna-Tobruk-Bordia coastline of Libya. Accordingly, Ankara has said that the attempts by the Greek government to appropriate huge parts of Libya’s continental shelf, since a political crisis hit the North African country in 2011, have been averted.
In response, Egypt and Greece signed an agreement in August 2020, designating an EEZ in the Eastern Mediterranean between the two countries.
According to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, while a country is able to stretch its territorial waters only 12 nautical miles out to sea, when it comes to the EEZ, where it has the rights to fishing, mining and drilling, the area can extend for an additional 200 miles. However, if the maritime distance between the two countries is less than 424 miles, a bilateral deal is needed to determine a mutually agreed dividing line of their respective EEZs.
Greece, on the other hand, claims that the islands also have their EEZs, and with this claim, it reduces Turkey’s zone remarkably.
Another Greek news portal, “The Indicator”, said that Egypt is close to making an agreement with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean by disregarding Greek interests. It said that the areas of one tender zone in Egypt’s plan have been determined by Turkey’s claims, not according to the agreement with Greece.
Towards a Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement?
The relations between Turkey and Egypt deteriorated after Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi toppled the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in a coup after only a year in office. Ankara has maintained its position that a democratically elected president cannot be deposed by a military coup and thus, has voiced its criticism of el-Sissi and his backers, including the West and some of Ankara’s rivals in the Gulf region.
The Egyptian government, on the other hand, said that the issue is the country’s internal affairs and urged to not intervene. The dispute led the bilateral relations to remain deadlocked for many years.
The two regimes, have also crossed their swords during the Libyan proxy war, supporting the two opposing factions, in fact they reached near the verge of war confrontation, exchanging insults and threats.
Recently, however, signals of a possible reconciliation have come from both countries, particularly due to the changing dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Turkey-Greece crisis over the region’s energy resources. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu have both confirmed that intelligence units on both sides have recently met. However, Turkish officials have said there are still no political talks between the two sides, and that any contacts are solely for intelligence reasons.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that Turkey and Egypt could negotiate and sign a maritime demarcation deal in the eastern Mediterranean if their ties, which have been strained, allow for such a move.
Cavusoglu told a news conference that Egypt’s exploration bids had respected Turkey’s continental shelf in the region and Ankara viewed this positively. “As the two countries with the longest coastlines in the eastern Mediterranean, if our ties and the conditions allow it, we can also negotiate a maritime demarcation deal with Egypt and sign it amongst ourselves,” Cavusoglu said.
The Greek Foreign Ministry, however, seems puzzled with the published maps of the new Egyptian tender. The Greek government is worried that Egypt maybe has “second thoughts” about their agreement and perhaps seeks to find a second chance for rapprochement with Turkey, which denies the validity of the Egyptian-Greek EEZ partial delimitation agreement, that newtralizes the Libyan-Turkey EEZ delimitation one. The Greek Foreign Ministry has asked for explanations from the Egyptian government and watches the progress of this issue closely.
Israel and Egypt to lay underwater gas pipeline…
At the same time, Israel’s Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz and Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El-Molla agreed during a meeting in Jerusalem to lay an underwater gas pipeline from the offshore Israeli Leviathan field to the offshore Egyptian liquefaction facility. The pipeline will allow the increase of Israeli gas to Europe due to the rising demand for natural gas. The project will serve as part of the network for tAtahe much bigger project to convey gas via an underwater pipeline from Israel to Europe via Greece and Italy.
The meeting was in the framework of the EastMed Gas Forum (EMGF) formed in January 2020, in which Cyprus, Greece, Italy and the Palestinian Authority are members as well as Israel and Egypt and the UAE has associated status.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined the meeting and said, “This is an important day that symbolizes the new eras of peace and prosperity in the region with the Abraham accords. It all began of course with the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt and has now become something that can benefit the economic situations of all the peoples of the region.”
El-Molla said, “The good relations between us led to the setting up of the EastMed Gas Forum. We are holding meetings between our teams in order to enlarge and improve the cooperation between the countries in everything related to energy and we expect a fruitful visit.”
The big question, however, is whether this project will replace the already announced EastMed pipeline.
In this respect, the government of the Republic of Cyprus has refuted a report by Greek daily “To Vima” which writes about a scenario of the EastMed natural gas pipeline circumventing the Cypriot EEZ.
Director of the Presidents Press Office Victoras Papadopoulos who was asked to comment on the report said that “…this is not the case. Programming or plans on the EastMed route have not changed,” he noted.