ANKARA: Turkey will start drilling for oil alone next year in part of the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus and Syria after regional tensions put potential partners off applying for joint exploration licences, Turkish officials said.
International oil companies had shown interest in partnering with Turkey's state-run oil firm TPAO to explore the Iskenderun-Mersin region, tucked in a corner of the eastern Mediterranean near the island of Cyprus and the Syrian shore.
But with the 18-month-old Syrian crisis and Turkey's decades-old dispute over Cyprus showing little sign of abating, none of the 11 firms which showed initial interest ended up applying for a licence, Turkish energy officials said.
"Companies are concerned about stability in the region. Because of this they did not enter into the process that TPAO started. However, when the region calms down, the same interest will be shown again," one of the officials told Reuters.
"TPAO will start exploration in 2013. TPAO plans two separate drills in the (Iskenderun) Gulf," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Turkey is locked in a row with the internationally-recognised Republic of Cyprus over who has the right to tap hydrocarbon deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.
Surveys suggest more than 100 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of reserves could lie untapped throughout the region, a potential that has sparked investor interest but also revived decades-old boundary disputes.
Turkey, which shares long land borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, has also been thrust to the forefront of renewed Middle East tensions and has seen conflicts in neighbouring countries spill into its own territory.
Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, which has also given sanctuary to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Ankara is also grappling with its own Kurdish insurgency that has produced some of the bloodiest fighting with government forces in over a decade.
Over the past three years, there have been significant discoveries made in the eastern Mediterranean basin. Cyprus reported a natural gas discovery in December and neighbouring Israel has reported two major finds offshore in the sea separating both countries.
But Turkey has challenged Cypriot attempts to discover offshore reserves, while Lebanon is in dispute with Israel over the Jewish state's discoveries.
Adding to tensions, Turkey, the only country to recognise the state of northern Cyprus, started onshore oil and gas explorations on the breakaway state in April.
Turkish officials said in March 11 firms had showed interest in exploring in the Iskenderun-Mersin region: Chevron, Total, Petrobras, Statoil, ConocoPhillips, OMV, RWE, Perenco, Genel Energy, BG and Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co., or Kufpec.
Last November, TPAO signed an accord with Shell for hydrocarbon exploration and production further west in the Mediterranean off the coast of Antalya and shale gas exploration near the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.