Turkey is planning to cooperate with Libya’s national oil industry, while there could also be cooperation with further international firms on oil and gas exploration, the country’s energy and natural resources minister said.

Fatih Dönmez’s remarks come after he earlier this month said Ankara had determined seven licensed areas in the Eastern Mediterranean for oil exploration and drilling under the recent pact signed with Libya’s United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), adding that drilling could start within three to four months.

“We plan to carry out exploration activities in Libya in cooperation with the National Oil Corporation (NOC). This was the case in the past. There could also be international companies with whom we can act together. This will become clearer as times goes on,” Dönmez told a local media outlet on Sunday.

The minister stressed that, despite the fact that Ankara and Tripoli had signed an agreement over energy, Libyan resources must foremost be used for the development of the country and the well-being of its citizens.

“As was the case before, we plan to carry out cooperation in the fields there based on win-win formula,” Dönmez said, adding that the “other side looked positively at the proposal.”

Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) – Turkey’s national oil company – has already applied in recent weeks to drill in the seven chosen licensed areas in the Eastern Mediterranean under the recent Libya pact.

On Nov. 27, Ankara and Libya’s GNA signed two separate pacts, one that encompasses military cooperation and the other maritime boundaries of the two countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The maritime pact, effective from Dec. 8, asserted Turkey’s rights in the region in the face of unilateral drilling by the Greek Cypriot administration, clarifying that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the resources of the region.

Dönmez earlier this month said the legal procedure would take around three months and that the Turkish Petroleum could start new drilling activities in these areas in the following three to four months.

Turkey has been conducting oil exploration and production activities in Libya for nearly 20 years, but these works were interrupted in 2011.

Black Sea operation

On the other hand, Dönmez also touched upon exploration activities in the Black Sea, where drilling work has been suspended for a long time, saying they were hopeful regarding the explorations.

Turkey’s first oil and gas drilling vessel, the Fatih, set sail from northern Turkey’s Trabzon Friday morning for its long-awaited drilling mission in the Black Sea following the completion of installation works.

After nearly one-and-a-half months of preparation, the Fatih will start its first drilling activities in the Black Sea in the Tuna-1 zone in mid-July.

“We will carry out this operation with our first national drilling vessel, the Fatih, in the location named Tuna-1 off the shores of Zonguldak province, Dönmez said.

The Tuna-1 zone is located off the mouth of the Danube block in the crossroads between Bulgarian and Romanian maritime borders with the inland waters of Turkey.

Turkey’s first seismic vessel, the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, had earlier carried out seismic surveys in the Black Sea and had identified rich reserves of natural gas in the Danube block in the Turkish seawaters of the Western Black Sea. Romania and Bulgaria have been producing oil and gas for many years in the Danube block.

“The Fatih’s tower reassemble works have been completed at the port of Trabzon and it has since set out to sea. We will launch our first operation in the Black Sea in the first half of July. Experts say seismic data from the site shows promising signs. There have been a number of discoveries in the Black Sea, near Romania, for example, in fields close to ours. This type of seismic research is ongoing in Bulgaria. There is some work on the Ukrainian side, too” Dönmez explained.

Named after the Ottoman conqueror of Istanbul, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Fatih is 229-meter-long (751-foot-long) vessel, weighs 5,283 gross tons and is capable of drilling to a maximum depth of 40,000 feet.

Turkey has conducted six drilling studies in the Eastern Mediterranean so far, while the Yavuz drilling vessel is conducting a seventh in the Selçuklu-1 location to the west of Cyprus.

Turkish drilling operations in the Eastern Mediterranean fall under two categories: those in licensed areas issued by the TRNC to Turkey and those in licensed areas issued by Turkey to the TPAO.

Turkey’s third drillship, the Kanuni, arrived at the port town of Taşucu, in the Mediterranean province of Mersin, on March 15. Following the completion of renewal and upgrade studies, the Kanuni, which joined the fleet at the beginning of 2020, is also projected to launch operations in the Mediterranean Sea this year.

Ankara last year sent drilling vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean to assert the rights of Turkey and the TRNC to the resources of the region. The areas fall entirely within the Turkish continental shelf registered with the U.N. and in permit licenses that the Turkish government in previous years granted to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation.

Athens and the Greek Cypriot administration have opposed the move, threatening to arrest the ships’ crews and enlist European Union leaders to join in the criticism.

Ankara has on every occasion claimed to want to use energy as an incentive for a political resolution on the island and peace in the wider Mediterranean basin, rather than as a catalyst for further tension.

Turkey is a guarantor nation for the TRNC and has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.

In 1974, following a coup aimed at the annexation of Cyprus by Greece, Ankara was forced to intervene as a guarantor power on the island. The TRNC was founded in 1983.

Energy and Natural Minister Dönmez also pointed out that Turkey spends about $40 billion annually on energy imports, and that this amount should be reduced through local and renewable energy resources.

Over the past year, he added, Turkey produced 62% of the total electric energy through local and renewable resources, while this figure increased further to 66% during the first five months of this year.

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