NICOSIA - Cyprus said Monday it has launched a second licensing round for offshore oil and gas exploration blocks despite the strong objections of Turkey.
The tender comes after U.S. company Noble Energy Inc., the only firm to be awarded acreage in the first bid round, in 2007, announced a huge discovery in Block 12, 180 kilometers off the island's south coast last year.
The find is thought to have stimulated keen international interest in the remaining 12 blocks inside the island's delineated economic zone.
After applications for the exploration permits have been evaluated, a shortlist of candidates will be drawn up and submitted to the cabinet to decide who gets final approval, according to the announcement posted on the Ministry of Commerce's website.
"The decision on the applications for this second licensing round offshore Cyprus...is expected to take place within six months from the date of submission of applications," the ministry said.
Initial data announced by President Demetris Christofias in December indicated between 5 trillion-8 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves locked beneath the sea bed in Block 12, where Noble is currently test drilling. This would be enough to meet the island's domestic energy needs for decades.
Neighbor Israel has discovered even bigger finds in its own fields close to Cyprus waters, and both countries are now discussing energy cooperation, as underlined by Thursday's visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But Turkey has protested strongly against the Cyprus government's search for offshore oil and gas, branding it "illegal." Unlike the rest of the international community, Ankara doesn't recognize the government in Nicosia, which it brands a Greek Cypriot administration. Instead, it is the only government in the world to recognize the breakaway state which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in the north of the island in 1983.
Cyprus has voiced its determination to exercise its sovereign rights under international law to exploit energy sources.
Turkey has repeatedly called on the Cyprus government to postpone its gas exploration, saying the Greek Cypriot side has no right to explore while the island remains divided, as it excludes the Turkish Cypriot north.
Christofias says that any hydrocarbons discoveries will be used for the benefit of all Cypriots and that Turkey's own retaliatory exploration moves in the region are "outside international law."
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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