Cyprus decided on Wednesday to invite energy giants Total, Eni and ExxonMobil to bid for a license to explore for oil and gas in a new offshore block, officials said.
The cabinet agreed to allow firms already licensed to exploit oil and gas in the Mediterranean island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to bid for exploration rights in an area known as Block 7.
That makes the US giant ExxonMobil, France’s Total and Italy’s ENI all eligible to bid, with a month to do so.
Cypriot Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis said Nicosia had made the move due to “very specific geological reasons” related to a discovery in an adjacent block, announced by ENI in February.
Cyprus has pushed ahead with exploring for offshore energy resources despite the collapse in 2017 of talks to end the country’s decades-long division.
That has angered neighbouring Turkey, which has had troops stationed on the island since 1974, when it invaded and occupied the northern third of Cyprus in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to “overstep the mark” in disputed waters off the Cypriot coast.
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 Egypt’s huge nearby Zohr offshore reservoir in 2015 has stoked speculation that Cypriot waters hold similar riches.
Cyprus aims for natural gas to start flowing to a liquefied natural gas facility in Egypt by 2022.