ExxonMobil says to drill Cypriot waters despite Turkey warning

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Nicosia (AFP)

US energy giant ExxonMobil said on Friday it plans to conduct test drills for hydrocarbons off the coast of Cyprus later this year despite Turkey warning international firms against exploration.

"Our plan is to drill sometime in the fourth quarter, we haven't got an exact date right now," ExxonMobil's senior vice chairman Neil Chapman told reporters in Nicosia on Friday.

He spoke after talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, a day after Turkey advised energy firms not to bid for a new license to explore for oil and gas off Cyprus due to its own claims on the waters.

Cyprus on Wednesday invited France's Total, Italy's ENI and ExxonMobil to bid for unclaimed Block 7 in Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone.

Chapman said Friday's meeting centred on plans to drill exploration wells in Block 10, which has already been licensed to ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum.

"We have not looked in any detail at Block 7 yet", he added.

Cyprus has pushed ahead with exploring offshore despite the collapse in 2017 of talks to end the Mediterranean island's de facto partition.

That has angered Turkey, which has had troops stationed in Cyprus since 1974, when it invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.

In a statement on Thursday, Turkey's Foreign Ministry advised "companies that might be interested in participating in the tender to act with common sense and to duly consider the realities on the ground".

Ankara claims that an "important segment" of Block 7 "remains within the outer limits of Turkey's continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean".

"Turkey has never allowed and will never allow any foreign country, company or ship to conduct unauthorised research activities regarding natural resources within its maritime jurisdiction areas," Thursday's statement said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to "overstep the mark" in disputed waters off the Cypriot coast.

In February, a drill ship contracted by ENI to explore in Cyprus' offshore Block 3 abandoned its mission after Turkish military vessels blocked its path.

Texas-based Noble Energy in 2011 made the first discovery off Cyprus in the Aphrodite block estimated to contain around 4.5 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The discovery of nearby Egypt's huge Zohr offshore reservoir in 2015 has stoked hopes that Cypriot waters hold further riches.