April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that helped send the country’s currency to an all-time low. It hasn’t discouraged foreign oil companies eyeing the country’s shale gas reserves.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc, TransAtlantic Petroleum Ltd. and Valeura Energy Inc. are among explorers shrugging off the bribery probe that has ensnared Turkey’s rulers and undermined Erdogan’s 11-year rule. They’re forging ahead with plans to drill shale rock that holds as much as 4.6 trillion cubic meters of gas and 94 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Beyond reserves, Turkey is attractive to outside companies because the country so far has avoided the environmental protests that have stymied shale gas development in Europe. It also has vowed to cut through bureaucracy and wait times that have slowed such efforts in Poland, the U.K. and Romania.
Turkey itself wants to make the predominantly Muslim country of 77 million less dependent on energy imports. Thus Erdogan’s government kick-started domestic exploration by opening up to international explorers and offering tax breaks. The attractive fiscal framework, potentially vast deposits, and demand fueled by economic and population growth outweigh the current political risk, energy executives say.
“We expect Turkey to continue to be friendly toward oil and gas producers, especially since their next best sources are Russia and Iraq,” said Taylor Miele, investor relations director at TransAtlantic, a Texas explorer with licenses in Turkey and Bulgaria. Shell declined to comment and Valeura didn’t return queries seeking comment.
“Turkey’s shale gas-projects are going at full speed,” said Selami Incedalci, general director for petroleum at PIGM, the Energy Ministry agency that oversees shale projects, pointing to Shell plans to drill a second horizontal well in southeast Turkey this year.
Turkey’s economy has grown about 5 percent a year since Erdogan’s party came to power in 2002. Measured by purchasing power, output per capita has almost doubled to more than $15,000, according to the International Monetary Fund. Since 2011, Turkey has seen the fastest growth in energy consumption in the OECD and its overall energy consumption may double over the next decade, according to the U.S. energy agency.
That’s a major problem for a country that imports 99 percent of its oil and gas, with the majority coming from Russia and Iran.
With a widening balance of payment deficit and the lira weaker than last year, the government had no choice but to alter its natural resources law and open up to international explorers, according to Yvonne Telford, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie in London.
The lira gained 0.9 percent against the dollar to 2.091 at 4:28 p.m. in Turkey, its strongest level this year, according to prices compiled by Bloomberg. The currency is still about 15 percent weaker than 12 months ago.
“The government recognized how heavily it relied on imports and that’s why it formed a new energy strategy,” Telford said. “Turkey wants to significantly reduce their dependence by 2023.”
Shell was the first large international explorer to try its luck with Turkey’s shale, teaming up with the state-owned energy company TPAO. The explorer drilled the first appraisal well in the Dadas shale in southeast Anatolia late last year and plans another one in the first half of this year.
Balance of Payments
Hydraulic fracturing of shale, as well as conventional exploration of oil and gas, could give a boost to the economy that shows signs of cooling and help shore up Turkey’s balance of payments, said Fulya Ilbey, a managing director at InfraStrategies consultancy in London.
“I’m optimistic about the investment environment in the Turkish upstream market and I think a potential success in Shell’s operations will add a significant momentum to both TPAO’s and others’ investments,” Ilbey said.
The country, through its TPAO oil entity, spent more than $1 billion on onshore and offshore exploration in 2013 and plans to spend a similar amount this year, according to government officials. Turkey may increase its exploration budget as much 13-fold in the future, the energy minister said last year before the political scandal broke. Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp., Petroleo Brasileiro SA and Chevron Corp. are already exploring in the Turkish portion of the Black Sea as well as in the Thrace basin in western Turkey.
Unlike EU countries, Turkey hasn’t seen any domestic environmental protests because much of the land with potential deposits is sparsely populated. Contrast that with Poland, ranked as Europe’s biggest holder of shale gas by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Poland disappointed interested companies like Exxon, Eni SpA, Marathon Oil Corp. and Talisman Energy Inc. by poor test results, long waiting periods for permits and high tax demands. Prime Minister Donald Tusk only recently replaced the environment minister and promised to speed up reforms in the sector.
“People are now citing Poland as an example of how not to do things if you want to attract foreign investors,” said Parker Snyder, president of industry body the Poland Shale Coalition.
Turkey’s new petroleum law, passed last year, removed territorial restrictions on exploration and opened the country for international companies. The maximum tax rate excluding royalty payments was cut to 40 percent from 55 percent and the tax is paid after the investment, not upfront as before, according to Ilbey.
“The fiscal framework is quite attractive for investors now,” Wood Mackenzie’s Telford said. “The new law leveled the playing field for the international companies.”
--With assistance from Ercan Ersoy in Istanbul and Onur Ant in Ankara.