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Turkey begins natural gas deliveries from Black Sea reserve

21 April 2023

Turkey has started taking deliveries at a new onshore plant of natural gas from its strategically important Black Sea reserve. Turkish Petroleum Corporation’s (TPAO) launch of Sakarya Phase One has been labelled a “game changer” that will redefine the scale of the country’s upstream sector.

Image: Turkish Petroleum Corporation
Image: Turkish Petroleum Corporation

President Tayyip Erdogan attended a ceremony at a new onshore natural gas port in the northern province of Zonguldak on April 21 to mark the first delivery of gas from the Sakarya field in the Black Sea. The development of the field and new onshore plant are of both strategic and political importance with presidential elections taking place in May.

Natural gas was first discovered at the Sakarya field in 2020 and is expected to have a total volume of 710 billion cubic metres. The development of the field will have a significant impact on Turkey which is highly dependent on imports.

Ashley Sherman, Research Director, Caspian & Europe Upstream Oil and Gas for energy research and consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie said: “Sakarya Phase One redefines the scale of Turkey’s upstream sector, bringing its first deepwater output and a fundamental shift in domestic energy security. To date, Turkey has relied almost entirely on gas imports to meet its demand. Sakarya Phase One will put a sizeable dent into the country’s energy import bill, which reached an eye-watering US$97 billion in 2022. But Phase Two would be the real gamechanger, enabling Sakarya to cover almost 30% of Turkey’s gas consumption by 2030.”

According to Wood Mackenzie, Phase One will ramp up to its plateau of 350 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) (3.7 billion cubic meters a year) from 10 wells, five of which will produce from the start. This will increase Turkey’s national gas output nearly tenfold by the end of the year. But a full Sakarya development, to produce 1.4 billion cubic feet per day (14.6 bcm a year) and more, is already in the spotlight.

Sherman added: “Sakarya Phase One is a major project delivery success for TPAO. It comes online less than three years since discovery in August 2020. Its fast-tracked lead time almost rivals Eni’s near-peerless Zohr in Egypt. TPAO never deviated from its 2023 start-up guidance, defying some initial scepticism.

“The political will to develop Sakarya quickly has been immense, especially with presidential elections looming. This project delivery success has been particularly impressive given TPAO’s lack of prior deepwater operating experience and the Black Sea’s logistical constraints.”

Sherman said that since 2020, the scale of Sakarya’s resource base has bolstered Turkey’s negotiating power with its gas import suppliers. Further contracts, including with Russia and Iran, are up for renewal by the late 2020s. Turkey could secure more favourable terms in extensions, but continued development success at Sakarya will be fundamental to its decision-making process.

“Turkey’s deepwater Black Sea gas resources are of huge political and strategic importance. Sakarya is commercially attractive too – thanks to the country's competitive gas pricing and fiscal terms. Nevertheless, risks abound in the Black Sea since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Although upstream milestones also await in Romanian and Bulgarian waters, the path to gas commercialisation could be far less smooth outside of Turkey,” Sherman added.

After attending the opening ceremony, President Erdogan, who is currently trailing in the opinion polls for the upcoming presidential elections on May 14, announced that natural gas would be provided for free to households up to 25 cubic metres monthly for one year.

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