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Time for the Levant's moment in the sun?

Politics have thwarted the region’s offshore promise so far, but the Zohr discovery has revived momentum

THE Levant Basin, stretching across most of the East Mediterranean from Egypt in the south to Turkey in the north, is hardly a new play. In 2010 the US Geological Sur­vey said it could hold technically recover­able resources of 122 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.7bn barrels of oil.

Israel made the early running, when US firm Noble Energy found a string of world-class gas deposits. Then politics in­tervened, stopping Israel from launching a liquefied natural gas business.

But the frontier basin is getting another shot at the big time. Gas finds off Egypt and Israel are persuading explorers to look at it more seriously – at least as soon as their capex budgets bulk up again.

In Egypt, the scale of Eni’s Zohr gas discovery in 2015, estimated to hold 30 trillion cf, has persuaded the firm to fast-track the project.

It’s not a moment too soon for the Egyptian authorities, facing fast-rising do­mestic gas demand and struggling to bring investment back to the country.

Israel is at last poised to inject momen­tum into the gas rush, but only if domestic dissent over the way in which the 19-tril­lion cf Leviathan field and surrounding re­serves are to be exploited by Noble and its local partner Delek are overcome.

Cyprus is also hopeful of cashing in on explorer interest, as it boasts acreage close to the Egyptian and Israeli finds. In March, the country launched a third off­shore licensing round for three areas off its southern coast, close both to Zohr and the Cypriot Block 12, where, in 2011, Noble found another gasfield, Aphrodite. It has estimated reserves of somewhere around 4 trillion cf.

The government has, unsurprisingly, been keen to point out similarities between the geology in the new acreage on offer and that of Zohr. Those exploring in Cyprus’s other 12 existing offshore blocks, includ­ing Eni and Total, have so far failed to find substantial reserves.

Part of Turkey’s own offshore acreage along with that of Lebanon and Syria also lie within the Levant Basin. Lebanon’s ef­forts to attract explorers with an offshore licensing round foundered due to unclear policies devised by its fractious political class and the oil-price collapse.

Turkey has, to date, focused more on Black Sea exploration, but has said it wants to broaden the search off its Mediterranean coast.

Shell and Turkish state oil firm TPAO signed an agreement to explore offshore Antalya licenses in 2011, but the campaign has yet to gather momentum.

This article is part of an in-depth series on offshore production. Next article: Slim pickings for Eastern European offshore.

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