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How Turkey Is Spoiling Its Neighbors’ Big Gas Plans

A big opportunity in a volatile region.

A big opportunity in a volatile region.

Photographer: Amir Cohen/Reuters/Reuters

The discovery over the last decade of sizable natural gas fields lying beneath the eastern Mediterranean has driven a vision of the region’s often-divided nations cooperating to exploit the reserves. They would enrich themselves, while their exports would help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian gas. One catch: Turkey wasn’t part of the picture, and with an active navy in the region, it’s playing the part of spoiler. Its recent maritime pact with Libya has added another snarl.

The big finds are the Aphrodite field off Cyprus (thought to hold 8 trillion cubic feet of gas); the Tamar and Leviathan fields off Israel’s coast, (11 and 22 trillion cubic feet respectively; and Egypt’s Zohr field (30 trillion cubic feet). Zohr ranks as the world’s 20th-largest gas field, but it’s a fraction the size of the whoppers on the list, which are concentrated in Russia. Still, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2010 that there were 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin and an additional 223 trillion cubic feet in the Nile Delta Basin, raising the prospect that there’s more to be found.