Cyprus mulls oil permits

WARSAW (Reuters) – Cyprus could issue licenses for oil and gas exploration in the east Mediterranean by the end of this year, the island’s foreign minister said yesterday. Exploration plans by Cyprus have angered Turkey, its northern neighbor, with which it has been at loggerheads for decades. Cyprus says it is its sovereign right to explore for hydrocarbons, but Ankara says this could complicate already troubled peace efforts on the ethnically divided island. «I believe that before the end of the year the first licenses for exploration will be issued,» Cypriot Foreign Minister Giorgos Lillikas said during an official visit to Warsaw. Cypriots say provisional data suggest there are oil and gas deposits in a sea area separating the island from Egypt to its south and Lebanon to its east. The internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government plans to open 11 areas, or «blocks» rimming the island’s south for exploration. Cyprus’s Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have lived divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. A breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state in northern Cyprus is recognized only by Ankara. Turkey has in the past warned exploration plans by Greek Cypriots could stoke tensions in the region. A Turkish oil company, TPAO, announced plans to also start hydrocarbon exploration in the east Mediterranean in early May. At present oil majors can purchase seismic data and two-dimensional templates of the Mediterranean seabed from Cyprus. The data will be available for purchase until the end of August, at which time companies can apply for exploration permits. «I believe that around the end of September, maybe beginning of October, the government will start analyzing these offers,» Lillikas said. «I hope the results will be promising and positive, so we will be able later to contribute by energy supplies to the energy security of the European Union.» Part of the area open for exploration abuts Egypt’s NEMED block, where Royal Dutch Shell is extracting natural gas.