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Turkey's Erdogan announces discovery of large natural gas reserve off its Black Sea coast

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the inauguration of a solar technologies plant, outside Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the inauguration of a solar technologies plant, outside Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020   -   Copyright  AP/Turkish Presidency
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced the discovery of a large natural gas reserves off the Black Sea coast, days after he promised “good news” that would usher in a “new era” for the energy dependent country.

Erdogan said Friday that the amount of gas discovered is 320 billion cubic meters, adding that he hopes to start extracting and using the gas by 2023.

If confirmed as recoverable resources, the reserves could ease the country’s dependence on costly energy imports and could ease the financial market jitters that have seen the country’s currency plummet to record lows this summer.

The Turkish drilling ship, Fatih, had been carrying out exploration operations in the Tuna-1 sector in the western Black Sea for the past month. The sector is near where Romania has also found gas reserves.

"We have carried out nine deep-sea drillings in the Mediterranean and Black Sea through our Fatih and Yavuz ships so far. We have had the honour of giving our nation the good news that it has been waiting for."

"There is no stopping and resting until we become a net exporter in energy," he added.

Euronews reported on Wednesday that Turkey was poised to announce the discovery of a new gas field, but a source reported the likely location was the Eastern Mediterranean, where prospective drilling has led to conflict with the EU.

The discovery comes as tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece are running high over oil and gas exploration in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean. Greek and Turkish warships have been shadowing each other after Turkey sent a research ship to look for potential undersea oil and gas deposits. The Turkish ship is scheduled to search for energy reserves there until Aug. 23.

Separately, Turkey is also at odd with Cyprus over energy exploration around the island. It has dispatched warship-escorted vessels off Cyprus’s coast to drill for gas, insisting that it’s acting to protect its interests and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area’s natural resources. The Greek Cypriot government of the ethnically split island has slammed Turkey for encroaching in its waters and economic rights.

The discovery of the natural gas reserve would come as a welcome respite for the country which is dependent on Iran, Iraq and Russia for its energy and is grappling with economic woes. Last year, energy imports cost the country $41 billion.

The Turkish lira has tumbled to record lows this months, fuelled by high inflation, a wide current account deficit and the Turkish government’s push for cheap credit to drive an economy that was already fragile before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The currency however, recovered some losses following reports of the discovery of gas deposits.

"Our goal is to make Black Sea gas available to our nation in 2023," said Erdogan on Friday. 2023 is the centenary of the founding of the Turkish Republic.