Turkey's giant gas discovery in the Black Sea followed by intensified exploration and drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean and the region's subsequent rising tensions, the start of TurkStream's commercial supplies from Russia to Turkey, and record renewables power production levels marked the top news stories in Turkey's energy sector in 2020.
Turkey's exploration and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea have escalated this year supported by the country's national fleet of drilling vessels Yavuz, Fatih and Kanuni, and seismic vessels Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa and Oruc Reis.
This year, in particular, demonstrated that Turkey's resolute efforts to find domestic hydrocarbon resources with the country's sixth-generation drillship Fatih in the Black Sea bore fruit. An initial briefing by Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Donmez on the new mission in the Black Sea came in May when he declared that deep drilling is scheduled to start using the Fatih drillship in July for the first time in the Black Sea.
The vessel set sail on May 29 from Istanbul and after disassembly and reassembly works were finalized. It began drilling on July 20 in the Tuna-1 field, a part of the Sakarya Gas Field, some 100 nautical miles (185 kilometers) north of the Turkish coast in the western Black Sea. Almost a month later, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Aug. 21 that Turkey discovered major natural gas reserves of some 320 billion cubic meters (11.3 trillion cubic feet) in the region.
"Turkey has made the biggest natural gas discovery in the Black Sea," Erdogan said, adding that the country aims to supply the discovered gas for public use in 2023. Donmez also announced on the same day that gas found in the field that covers around 250 square kilometers was of high quality and that new wells would be drilled in the same area. The discovery was twenty-fold the quantity of all the natural gas that Turkey has ever produced – 16.6 billion cubic meters (bcm).
On Aug. 24, Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency's (IEA) head, confirmed that Turkey’s giant offshore natural gas discovery, worth $80 billion in line with current price trends, would need an investment of approximately $6 billion to start field production.
Subsequently, Turkish officials and experts drew from substantial evidence that the Black Sea discovery foreshadows a much bigger gas find in the region. Erdogan's statement on Oct. 17 confirmed this evidence when an additional discovery of 85 bcm of reserves in the same gas field was made. Revised up to 405 bcm with the additional 85 bcm, the discovery is almost 25 times more than Turkey's overall gas production, making it "one of the largest gas finds in 2020 in the world."
Turkish Petroleum in a statement on the same day announced that exploration in the largest seismic acquisition in the Black Sea, Sakarya 3D, would start in the broader basin in November. On Nov. 5, the Fatih drillship began drilling in the Turkali-1 well in the Sakarya gas field in the Black Sea, a task that was scheduled to take 75 days.
While Fatih drillship's activities continued in the region throughout the year, preparations were made for Turkey's third drillship Kanuni to accompany Fatih for a Black Sea mission next year.
Kanuni was taken into Turkish Petroleum Corporation's inventory on Jan. 31 and arrived in Tasucu, Mersin, a coastal city in the Mediterranean region of the country on March 15. Constructed in 2012 by Samsung in South Korea, and used by Brazilian energy company Petrobras for exploration up to 2015, the vessel can extend to a depth of 11,400 meters and drill to depths of 3,000 meters.
Scheduled to drill nearly 40 wells in the Black Sea, Donmez announced on Oct. 3 that the Kanuni drillship is set to start its operations in the Black Sea in early 2021. One week after this announcement, Kanuni set sail from the southern Mersin province en route to Istanbul’s Haydarpasa Port before setting sail for operations in the Black Sea. Finally, on Nov. 13, Kanuni also left Istanbul to sail to the Black Sea to undertake maintenance works at the Port of Filyos on the Black Sea coast before it starts its mission at the Sakarya Gas Field.
- Tensions escalated in the Eastern Mediterranean
In early 2020, the backwash continued from the pact signed on Nov. 27, 2019, between Ankara and Libya's UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) on maritime boundaries of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
On May 29, the energy minister confirmed that under this pact Turkish Petroleum had applied for drilling activities in the country's licensed areas and disclosed that Turkey's first activities in the region are expected to start within the next 3-4 months.
On June 4, a joint statement following a meeting between Erdogan and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj revealed that Turkey and Libya plan to advance cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, including search and drilling activities to further benefit from potential natural resources. Four days later, Donmez declared that Turkey designated seven licensed areas in the region for oil exploration and drilling under the recent Libya pact.
Previously, on Jan 2, Greece, Israel, and the Greek Cypriot Administration signed an Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) pipeline project agreement that planned to run from Israel to Southern Cyprus, Crete, Greece, and ultimately to Italy. In response to the deal, Turkey stressed the project was “the latest instance of futile steps” aimed at excluding Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in the region. On July 20, the Israeli government ratified the EastMed agreement.
During the spring of 2020, the spread of Covid-19 throughout the world started to impact exploration and drilling operations of global oil companies in the Eastern Mediterranean and resulted in revisions or temporary suspensions of these programs by companies such as ExxonMobil and the French-Italian consortium of Total and ENI.
In midyear, tensions started to escalate in the Eastern Mediterranean when Turkey announced the drillship Oruc Reis' new seismic research exercise in the region via NAVTEX (navigational telex) starting from July 21. Following Turkey's announcement, Greece alleged that Oruc Reis has violated its rights in the Eastern Mediterranean continental shelf, using a small islet; the island of Kastellorizo and Meis in Turkish a few miles away from Turkey’s coast as justification for this encroachment. However, Turkey hit back by stressing that the maximalist continental shelf claim of Greece is contrary to international law, jurisprudence and court rulings.
Greece signed deals with Italy on June 9 and with Egypt on Aug. 7 on exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey slammed the "so-called agreement” with Egypt in a statement, saying that Greece and Egypt had no mutual sea border and declared the deal "null and void" for Ankara. Turkey reported to the UN that the demarcated area violated its continental shelf and maritime rights.
On Aug. 10, Turkey announced another Oruc Reis seismic research exercise in the region via NAVTEX starting Aug. 10 until Aug. 23. A report on Aug. 12 said that two streamer cables had been laid on the Eastern Mediterranean seabed as part of its ongoing hydrocarbon exploration.
Along with Oruc Reis, the country issued a new NAVTEX on Aug. 16 for its drillship Yavuz, which continued its exploration off the island of Cyprus between Aug. 18 and Sept. 15.
On Oct. 14, Donmez confirmed that a first seismic data report from Oruc Reis was expected on Oct. 16, while an announcement on Nov. 4 revealed that Turkey's other seismic research vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa would continue its activities in the region until Feb. 16.
As tensions in the region escalated in the fall of 2020, EU leaders met on Dec. 11-12 to discuss among several issues the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean and possible sanctions against Turkey, pushed mainly by Greece and the Greek Cypriot Administration. After the meeting, the EU reported its decision to impose additional sanctions on Turkish individuals and companies in light of Turkey's activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. In response, Turkey condemned the decision calling it "biased and unlawful."
"We reject the biased and unlawful attitude toward [Northern] Cyprus, Eastern Mediterranean, Aegean, and regional issues in particular, which we know that the majority of the EU does not adopt, but had to be put into December 10 EU Summit Conclusions due to solidarism and veto pressure," Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
- TurkStream commercial supplies start
This year has also seen the finalization of other energy projects. At the beginning of the year, commercial supplies via the TurkStream natural gas pipeline commenced on Jan. 1. President Erdogan and Russia's President Vladimir Putin presided over the opening ceremony on Jan. 8 in Istanbul with the attendance of high-ranking energy ministers from both countries.
In Erdogan’s speech at the ceremony, he described the TurkStream project as ‘historic’ in terms of bilateral energy ties and cooperation, while Putin dubbed it "a pioneering and unique project." Donmez also said he considered the project "visionary" and "a new symbol of cooperation between Turkey and Russia."
The TurkStream project consists of two lines with a total capacity of 31.5 bcm per year. The first line will carry 15.75 bcm of Russian gas to Turkish consumers every year, and the second line will carry another 15.75 bcm from Russia to Europe via Turkey.
On Jan. 28, Gazprom supplied its first billion cubic meters of gas via the TurkStream gas pipeline, from which about 54% went to the Turkish gas market while the remaining 46% was delivered to the Turkey-Bulgaria border. An announcement by industry sources on April 3 reported that over 1.32 bcm of Russian gas was transferred to Europe from Turkey via TurkStream during the first quarter of 2020.
On June 27, a Hungarian oil and gas company, MOL, announced that it would join the TurkStream project through Serbia. The regulator approved a 10-year development plan that includes the construction of a new Serbian-Hungarian gas inter-connector, with an annual capacity of 6 bcm.
- Akkuyu NPP's third unit license granted
Substantial developments have taken place in another joint project between Turkey and Russia in 2020; Turkey's first nuclear power plant (NPP) Akkuyu NPP. This follows an intergovernmental agreement signed between Turkey and Russia in May 2010 for the NPP that will consist of four VVER-1200 power units with a total installed capacity of 4,800 megawatts (MW).
On Jan. 23, the welding of the reactor cover for the Akkuyu NPP was completed, according to Atommash, the Volgodonsk branch of AEM-technology, which operates alongside Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom's machine-building division of Atomenergomash.
The manufacture of a set of bends for the reactor coolant pipeline for the first unit of the plant was also completed on March 23. On June 26, Turkey’s energy minister announced the laying of the second unit's foundation. On June 30, the production of a set of steam generators for the first unit was completed.
On July 16, hydraulic tests for the reactor pressure vessel of the first unit were completed, while the shipment of steam generators for the first unit began on Aug. 24. On Sept. 10, the final manufacturing stage of the first reactor started. Finally, a construction license was granted for the third unit of the Akkuyu NPP on Oct. 17 for a construction start next spring.
Turkey’s plan for a second nuclear plant at Sinop in northern Turkey, however, hit a stumbling block. Donmez disclosed on Jan. 20 that the ministry is reassessing its major partner for the plant because the results of feasibility studies conducted by Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., fell short of the ministry's expectations in terms of the construction budget and the schedule for its completion.
- Records reached in renewables
Turkey's renewable energy sector started to markedly develop after 2008, and this upward trend continued at significant speed in the following years. Turkey ranked seventh in the list of top destinations for foreign direct investments (FDI) in renewables, according to greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets in its ranking for Top European Locations for Renewable Energy FDI 2020.
On June 3, Donmez announced that Turkey produced 66% of its electricity from local and renewable sources in the first five months of 2020. Out of the total amount of 66%, 34.3% has been generated from hydroelectricity, 13.8% from local coal, 8.8% from wind, 3.6% from geothermal, 3.5% from solar, 1.8% from biomass and 0.2% from other sources. On May 24, a record of 90% was also hit for daily electricity production from local and renewable sources. On Aug. 14, Donmez stated that updated data showed that Turkey produced 62.08% of its electricity from local and renewable sources in the first seven months of 2020.
Turkey completed draft regulations on July 1 for the Renewable Energy Source Guarantee Document (YEK-G) to allow power producers and suppliers to demonstrate and verify renewable energy generation so consumers can see the source of their electricity purchases. The draft regulations, which will allow consumers to choose their electricity source, will be open for public consultation.
Turkey's first integrated solar ingot-wafer-module-cell production factory, established by Kalyon Solar Energy Technologies Production Co., started production on Aug. 19.
The Turkish government agreed on Sept. 18 to give a six-month extension to the Renewable Energy Support Scheme (YEKDEM) for newly built plants until June 31, 2021, taking the Covid-19 pandemic into account.
According to International Energy Agency (IEA) data compiled by Anadolu Agency on Nov. 12, Turkey will rank fifth in Europe for increasing its renewable power capacity, which is forecast to add 22.2 gigawatts (GW) by 2025 to reach 66.8 GW. The country's total installed renewable energy capacity stood at 44.6 GW at the end of 2019. The agency forecasted that by the end of this year, renewable power in Turkey would reach 47.3 GW with an increase of around 1.1 GW of hydropower and almost 900 megawatts of wind power.
On Nov. 23, Donmez highlighted that 2020 was a turning point for renewable energy development in Turkey, underlining that installed renewable capacity additions in 2020 were more than that of the capacity of 17 EU countries.
- LNG imports outpace pipeline gas
Turkey's natural gas sector also witnessed firsts this year. On May 23, Turkey's Energy Exchange Istanbul (EXIST) announced the launch of its "Natural Gas Market Weekly Products" online service from June 1, through which natural gas market participants can make weekly product transactions.
On May 28, Turkey’s LNG imports in March outpaced pipeline gas imports for the first time, data from Turkey's Energy and Regulatory Watchdog (EMRA) showed. Turkey imported 2.06 billion cubic meters of LNG in March, which accounted for 52.5% of total gas imports.
Meanwhile, Turkey's state-owned energy company BOTAS signed a deal on June 4 to buy 1.2 million tonnes of LNG from Total. The deal between the two sides, which came as BOTAS is nearing the expiry of long-term contracts with Nigeria and Algeria, will run for three years.
On June 11, news came that the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Project (TANAP) would deliver 6 bcm of natural gas to Turkey by June 30 this year, the date of the pipeline’s second year of commercial operations. TANAP's General Manager Saltuk Duzyol said that TANAP's gas deliveries to Turkey have incrementally increased from the first year when it initially delivered 2 bcm.
By Ebru Sengul Cevrioglu