US Firm: Good Chance Of Large Gas Find Off Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) - U.S. company Noble Energy said Wednesday that seismic data indicate a strong chance of a sizable natural gas find off the southeastern coast of Cyprus and that it hopes to begin drilling late this year or in early 2012.

"We don't have an exact number on the amount of resources available, but the structure that we can tell from seismic looks very favorable to be a sizable quantity," Terry Gerhart, Noble Energy vice president for international operations, said after talks with Cyprus president Dimitris Christofias.

Gerhart said Noble Energy's confidence of a large gas find off Cyprus is boosted by its discovery of large natural gas fields in Israeli waters close to Block 12, an 800,000-acre (1,250-square-mile) area that Cyprus licensed the U.S. firm to explore in 2007.

One of the recently discovered Israeli fields, dubbed Leviathan, contains more than 450 billion cubic meters (15.9 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas.

"We're working very diligently to accelerate the process to get a well drilled and certainly, hopefully, start it fourth quarter 2011," said Gerhart, adding that procedural delays could push the start date back to the first quarter of 2012.

He said Noble Energy would be interested in bidding for additional exploration rights inside Cyprus' 51,000-square-kilometer (17,000-square-mile) exploration zone that is carved into 13 blocks when the island proceeds with a second licensing round in the second half of this year.

Noble Energy is jointly exploiting the Israeli gas fields with Israeli energy company Delek and Gerhart said Nobel would welcome working with Delek in the Cypriot fields, "if approved."

Delek last month proposed a partnership with the Cypriot government to build a facility on the island for processing and exporting natural gas found in Israeli and Cypriot waters.

Cyprus' energy service director, Solon Kassinis, said the island's gas plans aim to cover domestic demand and export excess supply.

"Our primary target is to examine the possibility of covering the country's gas demand as well as exporting to third countries through the establishment of a pipeline from the hydrocarbon field in Block 12," Kassinis told The Associated Press in an e-mail Wednesday.

"Natural gas supply from the Israeli deposits is also considered as an option."

The potential for an offshore gas bonanza has complicated oil-dependent Cyprus' negotiations with other potential liquefied natural gas suppliers, including Royal Dutch Shell PLC.