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Cyprus can be reunified before gas exports to EU, minister says

Cyprus, the divided Mediterranean island that announced its first offshore gas find last week, said revenues will benefit Greek and Turkish Cypriots because reunification will be achieved before the fuel is shipped.

?Revenues are not envisaged to start accruing before a number of years pass because we need a number of years to develop the necessary infrastructure,? Praxoula Antoniadou, minister for commerce, industry and tourism, said in an interview in Nicosia on Friday. ?Our vision is that the Cyprus problem will be solved much sooner, within months.?

Cyprus?s Greek and Turkish-speaking communities have been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north of the island. Exploration drilling last year by the US’s Noble Energy Inc. prompted Turkey, which doesn?t recognize the Greek Cypriot government, to send warships to the area. It has urged Cyprus to freeze oil exploration until a settlement is reached so that the Turkish Cypriot community can benefit from revenues.

Noble?s gas field, containing as much as 8 trillion cubic feet of fuel, ?enhances the probability? that other sites off Cyprus may also hold hydrocarbons, Antoniadou said on January 4. The government announced a second oil and gas licensing round on November 23, covering 12 of 13 blocks, and will invite expressions of interest ?in about a month?s time,? the minister said.

The nation is seeking to export gas to western Europe as demand for the cleaner-burning fuel grows and the region strives to cut its reliance on Russian supply. Shipment options, complicated by the 38-year division of Cyprus?s two communities, include delivery as liquefied gas or by pipeline.

?What is currently under consideration is primarily the process of liquefaction,? Antoniadou said. ?These types of decisions are being discussed and cannot be limited to just this first discovery. It would include the current discovery and other future discoveries.?

The tensions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots may hamper plans for a gas pipeline because any export link would have to connect to an existing network crossing Turkey, Pierre Godec, an oil-industry consultant, said last week. Gas liquefaction, a more costly alternative, would allow exporters to ship supplies by seaborne tanker instead.

Antoniadou, co-author of ?The Day After? trilogy that set out the economic benefits of reunification for the island?s economy, for Turkey and for Greece, said there?s time for the two communities to agree on a ?bizonal, bicommunal federation? before gas revenues accrue in a ?number of years.? [Bloomberg]