While everyone is getting excited about the big-name bidders in the third Cyprus offshore gas licensing round, it is worth remembering the excitement that first greeted the discovery by Noble Energy in late 2011 of the Aphrodite field in offshore Block 12.
Wild figures were thrown out by people who should know better about how much the gas was worth to the government. All kinds of predictions were made about how it was going to turn Cyprus into a natural gas hub with a land-based liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, how it would make everyone incredibly wealthy and how it could help solve the Cyprus problem.
Five years since the field was discovered and the Aphrodite gas is still in the ground, the government has earned only around €200m from licences and the Cyprus problem is still with us.
There are a number of reasons why the Aphrodite gas has not yet found a market. First and foremost was the collapse in international oil and gas prices.
This raised the bar for the amount of gas needed to make exports viable, either via a land-based LNG plant or via exports to already existing LNG plants in Egypt.
According to my own calculations based on the costs of extraction, transport and liquefaction, which subscribers to my monthly Sapienta Country Analysis have seen, you would need 40 trillion cubic feet (tcf) to sell gas to Egypt and make a profit at today’s prices. Aphrodite only has 4.1 tcf. Conversely, you only need 3.8 tcf to sell gas to Turkey and make a profit.
In short, to export to Egypt, you need to add either Israeli gas or find a lot more gas in the Cyprus EEZ.
Even if Total finds gas when it drills in Block 10 in early 2017, it will take around two years to confirm the volumes. Any gas found in the other blocks currently being licensed will take even longer.
You also need a unitisation agreement with Israel. Unitisation agreements govern arrangements between countries for discoveries, like Aphrodite, whose structures might cross maritime borders. It is highly unlikely anyone would buy Aphrodite gas without the unitisation agreement being in place.
In the joint statement made by Israel and Cyprus after the recent visit by President Nicos Anastasiades to the country, it said the two energy ministers would “seek to finalise” discussions on the unitisation agreement by September.
However, there is another obstacle. Following the rapprochement with Turkey, Israel is keen on sending gas via pipeline to Turkey through the Cyprus EEZ. For this to happen without a major fallout between Cyprus and its new strategic partner Israel, you need a solution of the Cyprus problem.
“Israel has a strong interest in the resolution of this [Cyprus problem] issue,” the statement said.
Reading between the lines, this means that, until the Cyprus problem is solved, there will be no unitisation agreement and no exports from Aphrodite.
It also means Turkey is likely to continue harassing gas drilling conducted elsewhere in the EEZ.