ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey launched oil and gas exploration on Saturday in the Gulf of Saros in the Aegean Sea, which it shares with Greece, Energy Minister Hilmi Guler said.
Turkey’s state oil firm TPAO also announced it would start oil exploration with Brazil’s Petrobras in the Black Sea in 2009, rather than 2011 as had been planned previously.
“We started drilling work in the Gulf of Saros in the Aegean and this is important for the works we have been carrying out recently. A good spot was detected,” Guler told a news conference.
Turkey and Greece have a territorial dispute over parts of the Aegean and more than 20 years ago they almost went to war over oil exploration.
However, Athens indicated on Saturday that this time the Turkish work would not provoke a dispute. “The exploration is taking place completely in Turkish waters. As such there is no need for Greece to comment on the situation,” said a Greek foreign ministry official who declined to be named.
Greece has a territorial limit of six miles around its 2,000 or so Aegean islands, but maintains it has the right to extend this to 12 miles. Turkey has said such an extension would be cause for war.
In March 1987, then Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou ordered warships to sink a Turkish exploration vessel if it went ahead with plans to enter Greek waters to conduct an oil survey.
Relations between Athens and Ankara have greatly improved in recent years. Last month current Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis made the first visit to Turkey by a Greek premier in nearly half a century.
Mehmet Uysal, TPAO’s general director, told the same conference in Ankara that the area where the oil and gas exploration was carried out was within six miles of the Turkish coast.
Uysal said TPAO would also start oil exploration in the Black Sea with Brazil’s Petrobras next year. “The seismic surveys near Sinop (on Turkey’s Black Sea coast) with Brazil’s Petrobras were completed last year. We will open the first well in 2009, two years earlier than 2011,” Uysal said.
Petrobras will invest $400 million in the next four years for oil exploration in the Black Sea, Uysal said. He also said TPAO hoped to find rich gas reserves in the western Black Sea and rich oil reserves in the eastern part.
“We hope to find a minimum 5 billion barrels of oil in the region where we are searching for oil in the Black Sea with Petrobras,” Uysal said.
TPAO itself will invest at least $826 million for oil and gas exploration in Turkey and abroad in 2008, he said. Energy-importer Turkey will spend an estimated $500 billion for oil and gas imports in the next 10 years, Uysal said.
He also said TPAO would complete seismic surveys in the Mediterranean within the next one and half years and would work jointly with foreign firms.
Turkey ad Cyprus have also been involved in a dispute over oil exploration in the Mediterranean. Last month Nicosia said it planned to launch a new licensing round for hydrocarbons in offshore blocks in the eastern Mediterranean on July 1.
Cyprus’s first attempt to tap speculated deepwater reserves in the eastern Mediterranean last year angered its northern neighbor Turkey.
Additional reporting by George Hatzidakis in Athens; writing by Selcuk Gokoluk, editing by David Stamp