The Greek Cypriot administration in southern Cyprus said it will push ahead with a third licensing round to search for potential natural gas deposits off the Mediterranean island nation's southern shores.
Administration spokesman, Nicos Christodoulides, said on Tuesday that the process will begin as soon as possible, but offered no further details.
France's Total and Italy's Eni along with its South Korean partner KOGAS extended exploration licenses in December, which they received in a second round in 2012, by two years. Eni is also currently said to be assessing developments in light of its discovery of the nearby mega 30 trillion cubic feet-capacity Zohr gas reservoir, located in Egypt’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
It was initially hoped the Zohr gas field extended to Cyprus’ EEZ, but seismic research found a distance of six kilometres between Zohr and block 11.
Eni-KOGAS had originally began exploring in block 9 of the island’s EEZ in October 2014, but suspended its search in April last year after failing to find enough gas in the block’s Amathusa and Onasagoras reservoirs to justify exploitation.
At the time, Greek Cypriot Energy Minister, Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, told parliamentary representatives that the consortium, which also has drilling rights in blocks 2 and 3, had asked for a two-year delay to examine its data. Drilling is expected to resume in 2017, he said.
— Georgios Lakkotrypis (@GLakkotrypis) February 16, 2016
The commencing of exploration in block 9 briefly led to the suspension of peace talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, after Turkey sent a seismic vessel to the region in protest against the drilling.
Turkey has demanded the Greek Cypriot side halt unilateral exploration for reserves off the island’s shores before a peace deal is agreed with Turkish Cypriots to end over four decades of division between the two communities.
The standoff continued for seven months, but ended following the withdrawal of the Eni-KOGAS drillship, which was quickly followed by the withdrawal of the Turkish ship, thus allowing peace talks to resume.
Cyprus was divided in July 1974, when Turkey conducted a military intervention on the island to secure the island’s north as a safe haven for the Turkish Cypriot community in response to a coup carried out by the Greek junta.
Turkey has since then maintained military presence in the island’s breakaway north, which declared independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983.
It is hoped that peace in Cyprus could pave the way for exporting gas to Europe by 2022.
So far, only 4.54 trillion cubic feet of natural gas has been found offshore Cyprus by Texas-based energy giant Noble in Block 12’s Aphrodite field - well below some original predictions of up to 9 trillion cubic feet of reserves.
Meanwhile, Total has thus far struggled to find drilling targets in its designated blocks 10 and 11.
Plans for a possible Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant have been put on hold as the amount of gas found so far does not economically justify its construction.
In June 2015, Lakkotrypis told Turkish media that gas could be exported to the European market through pipelines through Turkey.
“The Cyprus issue should be resolved in order to study the option of exporting natural gas through Turkey to Europe. If this option is possible, it should also be studied technically and economically,” he said.