Doubts cast on the scale of Turkish gas discovery in the Black Sea

Energy website OilPrice has raised doubts about the claimed discovery of a large gas deposit in Turkey’s Black Sea maritime region by state oil company TPAO.

Journalist Viktor Katona raised a number of concerns relating to Turkey’s claims about the nature of its gas discovery, which was hailed by the Turkish media as a ‘game changer’ in Turkey’s quest for energy independence. Currently, Turkey relies on Russia for almost 38% of its energy needs.

Katona compared the size of Turkey’s Sakarya field - 320 Billion Cubic metres (BCm) - to Romania’s deepwater offshore (42-84 BCm), which is also in the Upper Miocene and Pliocene sandstone deposits, at a similar depth. This field is much smaller than the deposits Turkey claims to have found, as is the Akcakoca gas field, which is currently Turkey’s largest offshore deposit, with around 100 times less than Sakarya is said to contain. 

In general, Katona said, Black Sea gas projects are joint ventures between big companies with significant experience in hydrocarbon exploration. “Even the Turkish national oil company TPAO has previously preferred to team up with Shell or ExxonMobil to assess its Black Sea reserves”, Katona said, but in the case of Sakarya, it had “assessed its reserves completely alone, creating an unprecedented event in the history of Black Sea exploration.”

Katona says that the political aspect of the Sakarya discovery means that it deserves greater scrutiny and independent confirmation. The discovery proves that Turkey has the capability to develop gas resources at a time when it is also exploring for energy in the Eastern Mediterranean, provoking the threat of EU sanctions. The discovery also serves as a useful domestic propaganda win at a time when the Turkish economy is suffering from the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as a sustained drop in living standards and rising inflation.

Another important factor to note is that almost half of Turkey’s long-term gas supply contracts are due to expire in the next year, a total of 24 BCm capacity. Around 8 BCm of this comes Russian energy company Gazprom. If Turkey can bring capacity from Sakarya online in 2023, it could use this increased capacity “to bargain better import pricing terms for its future supplies”, according to Katona.

“There are just way too many factors indicating that the announcement might not be as mouth-watering as portrayed,” he said.