The government of Cyprus has invited companies to bid on a new energy exploration zone off the coast of Cyprus, said a report in Kathimerini News.
The country decided to only permit energy companies already part of the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone to bid on the project, aiming to block Turkish interference, the report added. A Turkish Navy vessel impeded the path of a drill ship in February.
"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," local media reported quoting government sources.
That makes the US giant ExxonMobil, France's Total and Italy's ENI all eligible to bid, with a month to do so.
There is also talk of Total and Exxon combining in a consortium to operate in block 7. Bids will be accepted until the end of the month and undergo a negotiation process.
Minister of Energy Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said that, due to its geology, companies expressed interest for block 7 and thus it was decided to invite companies having licences in neighbouring Cyprus’ offshore blocks to express interest.
The process, according to Kathimerini report, was similar to the process of the third licensing round and would concern the companies awarded licenses in blocks 6, 8, 10, 11.
However, Turkey has repeatedly objected to Cypriot plans to exploit potential offshore gas reserves. Reports said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to "overstep the mark" in disputed waters off the Cypriot coast.
Turkish warships twice blocked the course of an exploration vessel leased by Italian energy firm Eni off Cyprus in February, forcing it to divert despite calls from the European Union and the United States.
Turkey has 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.