Cyprus will launch a new licensing round for more exploratory drilling for offshore oil and gas in four to six weeks, an official said Wednesday, a move underscoring its right to search for energy sources which rival Turkey strongly disputes.
Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou says the Cabinet authorized officials to prepare a call for bids to drill inside the island's 17,000 square-mile (51,000 square-kilometer) exclusive economic zone.
"With today's decision ... the government once again stresses its determination to exercise its sovereign rights within the Cyprus Republic's exclusive economic zone always, according to international law," Stefanou said.
Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish-speaking north and an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a sovereign state and opposes any Greek Cypriot energy search on the ground that it undermines the rights of Turkish Cypriots to any oil and gas wealth. Turkey has responded by recently carrying out its own seismic search for fuel sources in the Mediterranean and by signing a maritime accord with the Turkish Cypriots.
On Wednesday, TPAO, the Turkish state-run petroleum company, signed a deal with Royal Dutch Shell to search for oil and gas off Turkey's south coast and onshore in the country's southeast region.
Cyprus' exclusive economic zone is divided into 13 blocks and Stefanou said bids will be invited for all 13, except the one where the U.S. firm Noble Energy is now drilling.
Cyprus licensed Noble in 2008 to drill inside a block about 115 miles (185 kilometers) south of this island, close to a huge Israeli gas field. The company estimates the Cypriot field may hold between 3 and 9 trillion cubic feet (85-250 billion cubic meters) of natural gas.
Cypriot officials said a more precise estimate will be announced early next month once drilling concludes.