The recent discovery of a major natural gas deposit in the territorial waters of Cyprus creates a new energy and security landscape in the Eastern Mediterranean. It also raises the prospect of a major new project for cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece, both in the context of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum and on a regional bilateral level.
In late August, the Eni-Total consortium made an important discovery of natural gas inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone in Block 6 off the island’s south-western coast. According to an official announcement by the Italian company, natural gas was detected in the Cronos-1 field of Block 6, the amount of which, according to preliminary estimates, is 2.5 trillion cubic feet. This is a considerable quantity that could help to address EU energy security concerns.
Egypt is the natural intermediary country for the export of Cypriot gas through its liquefaction complexes in Idku and Damietta, something that has already been emphasised by Cyprus’ Energy Minister Natasa Pilides. In statements following the discovery, she said that the most likely scenario for the transport of the Cypriot natural gas to EU markets was through a pipeline to Egyptian processing plants, where it would undergo liquefaction, and then transport by ship to mainland Europe.
The Cairo-based East Mediterranean Gas Forum also comes into its own in the context of this discovery, validating this proactive initiative of participating Mediterranean states. This international organisation was founded in 2020 with the aim of establishing a viable regional gas market and enhancing bilateral and multilateral economic ties between member states.
The ongoing discovery of important new gas fields in the region creates a new energy landscape in the Mediterranean and is a clear success story for this Egyptian-led initiative. On a geopolitical level, the recent discovery of the new field also reaffirms the strategic importance of the network connecting Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece that has developed over the last few years with its multiple synergies, diplomatic, economic, and military.
Egypt has become a major energy hub in the Mediterranean, with overall gas production exceeding seven billion cubic feet per day and the huge offshore Zohr Field currently producing about three billion cubic feet of gas per day. Cyprus has now discovered 2.5 trillion cubic feet of gas deposited off its shores, and Greece is preparing to follow up on gas exploration southwest of Crete, where there may be considerable gas reserves that are expected to be commercially available at the end of the decade.
Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece are on track to form a major energy network in a strategic part of the globe at the junction of the Mediterranean and Red Seas and at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The time has come to transform the East Mediterranean Gas Forum into an advanced network benefitting from regional synergies that is not limited to the economic field alone, but will also include a diplomatic aspect, making it an important voice in promoting the national interests of its participants, especially in an era of global energy upheaval.
All this could make the forum, building on its low-carbon aspect, a leading energy institution not just regionally but also on the global scale.
* The writer is a lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens in Greece.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.