NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — U.S. firm Noble Energy will soon begin exploratory drilling to confirm oil and gas deposits beneath the sea bed off Cyprus' southern coast despite Turkey's attempts to prevent such a move, the island's president said on Tuesday.
Dimitris Christofias didn't specify a date for the start of drilling which officials have said will begin early next month. Christofias he said surveys have so far shown a "very great possibility" of hydrocarbon deposits inside an 800,000-acre (1,250-square-mile) area that Cyprus has licensed Noble to explore.
That area is close to large natural gas fields that Noble has recently discovered in Israeli waters.
Christofias says decisions on how the hydrocarbons will be exploited will be made once drilling confirms their quantity and quality.
Israeli energy company Delek, which is already working together with the Houston-based Noble Energy Inc., has already proposed a partnership with Cyprus 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 told lawmakers last week that natural gas could be pumped via a Noble-built pipeline as early as 2014.
Christofias said the Cyprus government has lodged complaints with the United Nations and the European Union against Turkey, which is threatening to deploy its naval forces to deter Cyprus' gas exploration efforts.
"The navy is for the protection of Turkish national interests," Egemen Bagis, the Turkish minister in charge of EU affairs told CNN-Turk television in an interview on Tuesday.
Christofias said Cyprus expects the international community's "robust and effective reaction" in case Turkey commits an "unlawful act."
Turkey strongly opposes Cyprus' offshore gas search, saying that it disregards the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots on the divided island. Cyprus was split into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys membership benefits.
"Turkey's policy is impermissible and condemnable," said Christofias. "These threats against Cyprus, to prevent drilling and to create a military incident, disturb international justice and create a climate of instability and tension in the already tense eastern Mediterranean."
Christofias said Turkish Cypriots could share in the wealth generated by any gas find as part of a reunified island. He said the potential bounty can work as an incentive for achieving a swift accord in U.N. sponsored peace talks, now in their third year.
Positive confirmation of sizable gas find would be a boon for Cyprus that is dependent on fossil fuel imports and ease the strain from a financial crisis that has fanned concerns it could be forced to seek a bailout.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this story.