A top official with United States firm Noble Energy said on Tuesday that a field it is conducting undersea exploratory drilling in off the coast of Cyprus may yield between 3 to 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Noble Senior Vice President Susan Cunningham says there is a 60 percent chance it will successfully reach the deposit.
Cunningham told an analyst conference at Noble's Houston headquarters _ broadcast live through the company's Website _ that firm results from the 'Cyprus A prospect' would impact other possible exploratory drilling in the area.
It is the first time Noble has given an estimate on the size of the deposit which lies inside the Mediterranean island's exclusive economic zone about 115 miles (185 kilometers) off its south coast.
By comparison, Noble said an Israeli field discovered nearby in 2010 had an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of gas _ the world's largest offshore gas discovery that year.
Cyprus officials have said they would formally announce drilling results early next month, while Commerce Minister Praxoulla Antoniadou said the government will invite tenders for more exploratory drilling inside Cyprus's 17,000 square-mile (51,000 square-kilometer) EEZ before the end of the year.
The island's President Dimitris Christofias said Monday that the government envisions turning the island into an energy hub.
Israeli energy company Delek, which is part of a Noble Energy-led consortium exploiting Israel's offshore natural gas finds, has proposed a partnership with Cyprus to build a facility on the island to process and export gas.
But Cyprus' gas exploration has ratcheted up regional tensions after Turkey condemned the drilling as ignoring the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically split island.
Cyprus was divided into an internationally recognized Greek speaking south and a breakaway Turkish speaking north in 1974 after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but only the south enjoys membership benefits.
Turkey doesn't recognize the southern government as the island's sole representative and considers a Cypriot-Israeli deal demarcating their maritime borders as invalid. It has sent a warship-escorted research vessel to look for gas deposits in the area and has also signed its own maritime border accord with the Turkish Cypriots.
Ankara has also warned that drilling could harm ongoing reunification talks. But Christofias said it could act as an incentive to expedite a peace accord since Turkish Cypriots would share in any gas riches.