SINIRUSTU/SYGKRASI, Cyprus -- Turkey began exploratory drilling for oil and gas Thursday in the Turkish-occupied north of ethnically divided Cyprus, heightening a dispute over who is entitled to the Mediterranean island?s potential fuel riches.
The move counters an offshore gas search by rival Greek Cypriots in the island?s internationally recognized southern half that has touched off vociferous protests from Ankara and Turkish Cypriots.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz joined Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu to inaugurate the start of drilling by Turkish Petroleum company TPAO at the Turkyurdu-1 borehole in this northwest village.
The Cypriot government says any fuel search is its sovereign right and has denounced what it calls Turkey?s ?gunboat diplomacy.? It also said gas finds could be an incentive to peace that would allow both Turkish Cypriots and Turkey to share in the wealth.
The US firm Noble Energy announced last December the discovery of an estimated 5-8 trillion cubic feet (140-230 billion cubic meters) of gas inside one of 13 blocks that make up Cyprus?s exclusive economic zone. Officials said that is enough to meet the island?s energy needs for many decades.
The Cypriot deposit sits close to a massive Israeli field and the two countries are currently discussing ways of how to extract and process the gas for domestic use and possible export. Cyprus launched a second licensing round for more offshore exploratory drilling earlier this year.
Ankara also claims rights of its own to the Cyprus?s exclusive economic zone and considers as invalid an agreement that the island and Israel signed last year demarcating their maritime borders. [AP]