Worsening security situations currently threaten energy supplies from the Persian Gulf to the fringes of Europe. The Strait of Hormuz – through which 40 percent of the world’s oil tanker traffic passes – was the scene of geopolitical tension earlier this month when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seized a freighter passing through the waterway. Indeed, the strait has faced threats of closure from Iran before and is a vulnerable chokepoint that, if shut down, would block exports from all OPEC members in the Persian Gulf. Worryingly, these security threats are not limited to oil exports. In April, Yemen’s only port for exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) ceased operations and evacuated its staff in response to the escalating unrest in the country, particularly threats from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Europe has also been searching for alternative energy routes that circumvent the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which in 2014 saw more than 40 percent of Europe’s gas supply pass through its territory from Russia.
Amid this volatility, international partners are increasingly turning to Turkey to take advantage of its dependability and ideal location at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The three largest U.S. oil companies, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, operate in sectors throughout Turkey’s energy market, from downstream refining and processing to funding pipelines to active exploration in the Black Sea. These types of partnerships can only be expected to increase in frequency and prominence as Central Asia acts on plans to raise oil production and as pipelines running through Turkey come online in the coming years.
Indeed, Turkey is a natural partner for policymakers and foreign corporations, as the country has long been a key player in the global energy supply chain. The Bosporus and Dardanelles, which together make up the Turkish Straits, are some of the most important energy trade routes in the world. In 2013, 2.9 million bbl/day of crude oil was transported through the Turkish Straits, representing about three percent of the annual global oil trade. This translates to 150 million tonnes of oil and petroleum products carried by about 10,000 tankers traversing Turkish waterways each year. The interconnectedness and sheer volume of this trade combined with the continued volatility in the region means it is vital that Turkey remain at the center of developing energy policy. As such, countries with an eye on ensuring they have the energy supplies they need for future economic growth despite the turmoil in the Middle East, must take a closer look at Turkey
In a world where most (61 percent) of the world’s oil is transported by ship, the security of the Turkish Straits has been critical to the transcontinental movement of oil and petroleum products for generations. However, its relative stability is allowing Turkey to look beyond these traditional means to begin planning for future energy needs. Infrastructure projects currently under construction promise to transform how oil and natural gas are transported East and West. These include the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) which, when it comes online in 2019, will be a key link in the Southern Gas Corridor between Azerbaijan and the EU. Additionally, Russia has approached Turkey about investing in a “Turkish Stream” project that would transport Russian gas through Turkey to the country’s border with Greece; the pipeline, once completed and running at maximum capacity, would have the potential to supply up to a third of Europe’s natural gas needs. While there are still challenges to overcome before these pipelines can be implemented and reach their full potential, there is no denying that Turkey is positioned to be a key energy hub linking diverse supply chains and growing markets in years to come.
The complexity of the conflicts affecting the region means there will be no quick or easy solutions to the crises currently threatening to disrupt Middle East oil supplies from reaching the markets that depend on them. However, countries and foreign corporations alike are increasingly looking for the stability, diversity and innovation promised by Turkey’s energy sector, demonstrating a path toward more interconnected and secure energy relationships from Central Asia to the heart of Europe.
Halil Danismaz is the President of the Turkish Heritage Organization, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that promotes discussion and dialogue around issues of importance in the U.S.-Turkey bilateral relationship and Turkey’s role in the international community.