NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- Exploratory drilling off Cyprus' southern shore has shown indications of a potentially sizeable gas deposit that raises hopes for more discoveries, the east Mediterranean island's energy minister said Thursday.
Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said that drilling by a consortium made up of Italy's ENI and France's Total has found an "extended column of pure natural gas" at a depth of 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) beneath the sea bed.
The geological structure of the well is similar to the massive Zohr gas field in nearby Egyptian waters. Zohr, discovered by ENI in 2015, contains an estimated 850 billion cubic meters (30 trillion cubic feet) of gas and is the biggest gas field ever found in the Mediterranean.
Lakkotrypis said more drilling is needed to determine the Cypriot deposit's size.
But he said this bodes well for other companies like ExxonMobil that are licensed to drill in waters off Cyprus because it confirms that the geological make-up of the area is similar to that of Zohr.
ExxonMobil and partners Qatar Petroleum are licensed to drill in an area, or block, just south of where the ENI-Total consortium is carrying out exploratory drilling. ExxonMobil said it plans to start drilling in its block later this year.
"This is very positive for other companies who are licensed to drill in other blocks at targets which are similar to that of Zohr," Lakkotrypis told reporters.
ENI called the discovery "promising" and confirmed that a Zohr-like geological structure extends into Cyprus' waters.
If sizeable quantities are confirmed, it will be the second significant gas discovery in Cypriot waters in the last few years, after several failed attempts. Texas-based Noble Energy discovered a field estimated to contain over four trillion cubic feet in reserves.
Cyprus is already in negotiations with neighbors Egypt and Israel on ways to market east Mediterranean gas. Options being weighed include selling gas to Egypt to meet its massive energy needs and using processing plants in Egypt to liquefy the gas and ship it to markets such as Europe.
Lakkotrypis has said Cyprus may consider building a gas processing plant of its own depending on the quantities found.
Another option that got the backing of the governments of Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy is to build a pipeline that would carry the gas to Europe.