Eight major energy firms have expressed interest in drilling for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus, the government said Friday.
Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis said there had been “strong interest from big companies” in obtaining rights to drill off the Mediterranean island, which hopes to become a regional energy player.
Ahead of a Friday deadline, eight companies made expressions of interest in rights to three blocks close to Egyptian waters, said Lakkotrypis.
The firms' names will be revealed on Wednesday, he said.
Licenses would let firms explore in waters near Egypt's Zohr field, where Italian energy giant ENI last August discovered the “largest ever” offshore natural gas field in the Mediterranean.
Officials from Italy's ENI and Frances Total have met with President Nicos Anastasiades in recent weeks to discuss exploring the blocks.
The Cypriot government said on Friday it would appoint a team to negotiate contracts with the winning companies.
US firm Noble Energy made the first gas find off Cyprus in 2011. The Aphrodite field is thought to contain over 125 billion cubic meters (4.5 trillion cubic feet) of gas.
ENIs Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi has said exploratory drilling off Cyprus' southern shore will “for sure” begin next year.
Cyprus planned to build a liquefied natural gas plant that would allow exports by ship to Asia and Europe, but the reserves confirmed so far are insufficient to make that feasible.
Cyprus and energy-starved Egypt are looking into the possibility of transferring gas from the Aphrodite field to Egypt via an undersea pipeline.
Cyprus hopes to begin exporting gas and possibly oil by 2022.
Nicosia has ruled out the possibility of an Israeli pipeline to Turkey via Cyprus before the island's four-decade division is resolved and ties with Ankara are normalized.