The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has announced that the country had made a historic discovery of gas in the Black Sea.

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Turkey hopes the discovery can help wean it off imported energy, including from Russia, which comes at a high cost at a time when the local currency is weakening and the economy is more fragile because of the coronavirus.

Erdogan said the 320-billion-cubic-metre deep sea find was made at a site Turkish vessel Fatih began exploring last month.

He added that he hoped to see the first gas reach Turkish consumers in 2023, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the modern republic.

“Turkey made the biggest discovery of natural gas in its history in the Black Sea,” a delighted Erdogan said during a speech in Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace.

“My Lord has opened the door to unprecedented wealth for us,” he enthused.

The vessel made the discovery in the Tuna-1 field off the coast of Eregli town in the northern province of Zonguldak after beginning the search on July 20, Erdogan said.

The Turkish lira gained value against the dollar on Erdogan’s promise on Wednesday to report “good news” on Friday, but fell after the size of the find was less than half of that suggested in initial reports.

Analysts were also wary of overplaying the discovery’s significance, pointing out that deep sea drilling is expensive and takes time.

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The volume of gas announced by Erdogan would cover Turkey’s total natural gas needs for six years, at current consumption rates.

Turkish Finance Minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, speaking aboard the Fatih, said the discovery and future potential finds could reduce Turkey’s import-heavy trade balance by cutting its high energy import bill.

Turkey’s energy import bill corresponded to two percent of total economic output last year, according to Capital Economics, with most purchases coming from Russia, Iran and Iraq.

Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Authority said in January the country’s annual cost of energy imports was between $12 billion and $13 billion (10.2-11.1 billion euros).

This month, Erdogan ordered the resumption of controversial energy exploration off the southern coast close to a Greek island in disputed eastern Mediterranean waters.

The issue has put Turkey on a collision course with Greece, Cyprus and the European Union, and exacerbated tensions with France, which has stepped up its military presence in the region.

But Erdogan showed no sign of yielding to the EU’s repeated call to immediately end the eastern Mediterranean search.

“We will accelerate our activities in the Mediterranean with the deployment by the end of the year of (drilling ship) Kanuni, which is currently under maintenance,” he said.

“God willing we expect similar good news,” Erdogan added.

Turkey dispatched the seismic research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by warships to the region on August 10, angering Greece who said the move threatened peace.