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Turkey aims to rid itself of the shackles imposed by energy imports

August 28, 2020 at 11:30 am

Turkish navy forces in Istanbul, Turkey on 12 July 2019 [Muhammed Enes Yıldırım/Anadolu Agency]

Last Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in Istanbul that the Fatih drilling ship has discovered reserves of 320 billion cubic metres of natural gas in the Black Sea, and that Turkey will start using this in 2023. This is also when the country will celebrate its centenary as a republic.

Turkey depends on imports for its oil and gas requirements. Last year, consumption of natural gas in the country was 44.9 billion cubic metres, and 99 per cent of this came from countries such as Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan. The gas discovered by the Fatih will reduce this total dependence on foreign energy supplies and strengthen Ankara’s position in energy deals. Turkey spends $12 billion annually on importing natural gas, which is a big hole in the budget and increases the need for US dollars. With the use of its own gas, that hole will gradually disappear, and we should see a budget surplus. Moreover, Turkey’s need for hard currency will decrease.

The discovery announced by Erdogan is an important step towards energy self-sufficiency and suggests the possibility of similar discoveries in the coming days, either in the Black Sea or the Mediterranean. Turkish research and exploration vessels are confident that new fields will be discovered, helping Turkey to move from being an energy importer to an exporter.

Erdogan’s good news was the fruit of the relentless efforts made by the Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources to discover oil and natural gas in the “blue homeland”. In 2011, Turkey only had the dated Piri Reis seismic survey vessel; today it has five large and advanced ships working in the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Two are seismic survey ships — the Oruc Reis and the RV Barbaros — with three drilling ships: Fatih, Yavuz and Kanuni. While the Fatih is operating in the Black Sea, the others are in the Mediterranean.

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By owning rather than renting such vessels, Turkey reduces the cost of exploration. According to retired Admiral Jihad Yaji, this is important because sinking one well in a chartered ship costs $500 million, but using a ship owned by Turkey keeps the cost below $38 million. Turkey may also use its ships and expertise in collaborative exploration with friendly countries, such as Pakistan and Libya, in the future.

All of this suggests a strengthening of the Turkish economy. It is already improving in various fields, the most important of which is the military industrial complex, creating a strong economy based primarily on production.

Turkey’s lack of energy resources has been a weak point for the economy, but that looks as if it is about to change. Indeed, Turkey’s energy resources will be a major economic factor, unless it suffers from the so-called Dutch disease, the phenomenon of declining production in industry, agriculture and other sectors due to the sudden abundance of natural resources. It was named thus because of its emergence in the Netherlands after the discovery of a large natural gas field in 1959.

Turkey is taking confident steps towards ridding itself of the shackles which energy imports impose. It seeks freedom from such restrictions through the search for gas and oil fields as well as investment in renewable energy projects, in addition to nuclear plants. Turkey is expected to be among the five largest European producers of renewable energy by 2024. Ankara hopes that sooner or later these various efforts will bear fruit, ending the country’s dependence on the outside world for its energy needs.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.