Turkey mulling oil, gas search off north Cyprus

AP News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2010 2:09 PM
Turkey mulling oil, gas search off north Cyprus

Turkey is considering starting oil and gas exploration off the northern coast of Cyprus, a senior Turkish Energy Ministry official said Thursday.

The official said initial seismic research conducted in waters between Turkey's southern Mediterranean port city of Mersin and Cyprus, 200 kilometers (124 miles) away, "has yielded certain data."

He said Turkey is carrying out further studies on how to proceed with exploration and is looking into possible partnerships with international gas and oil giants.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish rules that bar state officials from speaking to reporters without prior authorization.

The news came as Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said his country is finalizing its sea boundaries with Syria to facilitate a search for offshore mineral deposits.

"Now we have a much better relationship with Syria and we are negotiating the economic zone," Hariri told reporters after talks Thursday with Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias in Nicosia.

Lebanon signed an agreement with Cyprus to mark out sea boundaries in 2007, but ratification by Lebanese legislators has stalled. Hariri referred to "differences" between the two countries, but didn't elaborate.

Hariri said the agreements with both Cyprus and Syria will be sent to parliament for ratification, "hopefully soon".

Cyprus signed a similar agreement with Egypt in 2003.

Oil and gas exploration has threatened to increase tensions between rivals Cyprus and Turkey.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup on Cyprus by people who favored uniting the island with Greece. The island has an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, where Turkey keeps 35,000 troops.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but only Greek Cypriots _ who represent the island in the bloc _ enjoy the benefits.

Turkey does not recognize Cyprus' sovereignty and objects to a Greek Cypriot search for mineral deposits inside the island's exclusive economic zone, which covers 51,000 square kilometers (17,000 sq. miles) of seabed off its southern coast.

It says Turkish Cypriots should also have a say in how the island's oil-and-gas rights are used.

Cyprus government officials have vowed to proceed with exploration, but say both communities could share in the potential bounty if plodding talks aimed at reunifying the island prove successful.

Cyprus has licensed U.S. energy firm Noble Energy to search for fossil fuels near major gas discoveries in its Israeli offshore blocks.

Noble Energy spokesman David Larson said the company has identified a natural gas prospect inside its Cyprus block, but that there was no estimate of its potential size or chances of success.

He said no specific date for drilling a well has been set.

Cyprus Commerce Minister Antonis Paschalides had said the island would go ahead with a second licensing round for its remaining 12 blocks after "consultations with other countries are completed."

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Associated Press writer Susan Fraser contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.