Gas Exploration Opens New Doors in Nicosia

Natural gas reserves estimated to be worth €38 billion could change minds on Cyprus.

View from Nicosia of the Northern Cyprus flag painted on the southern slope of the Kyrenia Mountains, January 4
View from Nicosia of the Northern Cyprus flag painted on the southern slope of the Kyrenia Mountains, January 4 (Wikimedia Commons/Alexander Savin)

Located between Europe and the Middle East, Cyprus has historically been of strategic significance to powers on either side of the Mediterranean Sea. The discovery of natural gas off its shores has raised the island’s geopolitical profile — and might help it overcome communal tensions.

Cypriot waters are estimated to contain between 140 and 220 billion cubic meters of gas with an approximate value of €38 billion.

Exploration should spur economic growth and could make it easier for internationally-recognized Greek Cyprus and Turkey to hash out a compromise for the future of the island.

Cyprus has been divided into Greek and Turkish communities since a 1974 Turkish invasion. A United Nations peacekeeping force keeps the two sides apart.

The planned construction of a 2,000-kilometer gas pipeline connecting Israel to Cyprus to Greece makes resolving the conflict a higher priority for the EU. It is keen to diversify the continent’s energy supply away from Russia.

Risks

The risk is that gas exploitation will fill one side’s coffers and leave the other feeling it’s not getting its fair share. Mistrust runs deep here.

Turkey has so far opposed the search for hydrocarbons for this reason.

It has also ramped up tension with its historical rival — though NATO ally — Greece by flying military jets through its airspace over the Aegean Sea.

If Greek and Turkish Cypriots were to benefit equally from the gas bonanza, it could make the ongoing peace talks easier.

And there could be multiplier effects. Developing offshore gas fields could spur innovation and opportunities in construction, engineering, finance and technology. It would tie the island more closely to Europe, reducing Russia’s role in the Eastern Mediterranean. And it could remove a source of contention between Greece and Turkey, which would be a relief to everyone in the region.