Turkey is hoping to find shale gas reserves big enough to help reduce its energy import dependency and is in talks with foreign firms about widening exploration after encouraging early signs, industry officials said on Monday.
The government is hoping that major shale gas reserves lie in basins in its southeast, east and western Thrace regions and officials say several firms, including smaller players already looking for conventional oil and gas , are keen to explore.
With domestic gas consumption rising and its geographic location meaning it is also well-placed to supply international markets, major exploitable reserves could be a game changer for Turkey's economy and highly lucrative for whoever finds them.
"We are keen to exploit this method and we must make economic use of shale gas ," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told Reuters, saying it would be a priority for the near future.
Shell is drilling for shale gas in the region around the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, while Canadian firm TransAtlantic Petroleum is also active in the region.
"Companies from the UK, U.S. and Canada are keen on shale gas production in Turkey," said one senior energy ministry official, declining to be named because talks with potential partners were ongoing.
"These firms are in close contact with Turkish companies to obtain licences and to collaborate with them. They are also talking to state firms and are drawing up projections on possible sites and what can be done in the near future."
At least one foreign company was expected to sign an agreement for shale gas exploration this year, officials said.
Estimates of how big Turkey's shale gas reserves might be vary wildly.
One senior energy official said data from some international bodies suggested Turkey could have a massive 20 trillion cubic metres (cbm) of total reserves. Another industry expert said proven reserves so far stood at just 6-7 billion cbm.
That compares to an estimated 1.2 trillion cbm (42 trillion cubic feet), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in Ukraine, where Shell signed a landmark $10 billion shale gas deal last month.
"At present it is not possible to predict (Turkey's) shale gas reserves," Shell's Upstream International Director Andy Brown told Reuters in Ankara last Thursday, adding Shell would complete its exploration in Diyarbakir by the end of the year.
"We will be able to make an assessment only after we complete the first well, and then we'll be able to see the full picture," he said.