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Eni eyes expanding Cyprus gas hunt after Turkey standoff

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Nicosia (AFP)

Italian energy giant Eni is considering extending its search for gas off Cyprus, a company official said Wednesday, after a standoff with Turkey in the island's politically sensitive waters.

Chief Exploration Officer Luca Bertelli told a conference in Cyprus that the firm was assessing potential further exploration in two offshore areas and tapping a promising find announced last month.

Eni was caught up in an international dispute with Ankara last month when its ship was prevented from drilling around Cyprus by Turkish warships.

Turkey and the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus are locked in a feud over claims to any energy resources off the divided island.

Bertelli did not mention the two-week standoff that saw Ankara's navy force Eni's rig to abandon plans to explore in disputed block 3.

He said Eni was considering more exploration in blocks 6 and 11 after announcing the Calypso find in February.

Bertelli said that field contains "almost pure methane", with Eni estimating that the well could hold around 6 to 8 trillion cubic feet of gas.

He argued the fraught Eastern Mediterranean has the potential to be a gas hub for Europe.

"I think we need to go step by step, to be pragmatic, realistic," Bertelli said.

"The area is geopolitically complex, we need to find simple solutions and more pragmatic solutions to monetarize these resources."

Cyprus Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis said Wednesday that despite the incident the government remained committed to exploiting hydrocarbon reserves.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign firms not to "overstep the mark" in the Mediterranean.

In response to the standoff with Turkey, Eni earlier said it would wait to let the international players resolve their dispute.

Turkey and EU member Cyprus have long argued over the eastern Mediterranean, and Ankara has been stringent in defending the claims of Turkish Cypriots for a share of energy resources.

The confrontation over energy risks further complicating stalled efforts to reunify Cyprus following the collapse of UN-brokered peace talks last year.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup.

More exploratory drilling is expected off Cyprus by US giant ExxonMobil in the second half of this year.

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