NICOSIA (AP) — ExxonMobil will search for natural gas off the cost of Cyprus by the end of the year, a top executive said Friday, as Turkey renewed warnings against resource exploration in seas where it says it infringes on its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.
Senior Vice President Neil Chapman said that exploratory drilling will begin "sometime in the fourth quarter." He said ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum are focused on an area southwest of the Mediterranean island where they're licensed to explore.
Chapman said the company hasn't "looked in any detail" at an adjacent area, or block, for which the Cypriot government on Thursday invited bids for a drilling license.
The tender elicited another strongly-worded statement by Turkey's foreign ministry, saying that Ankara "has never allowed and will never allow" any country or company to conduct "unauthorized research activities" inside waters it considers under its own jurisdiction.
Turkey claims that parts of some blocks Cyprus has designated for drilling fall inside its own continental shelf. Turkey also argues that any hydrocarbon exploration ignores the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the ethnically divided island nation's natural resources.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the island's northern third.
The Cypriot government says any proceeds from gas drilling will be shared fairly among all Cypriot citizens after a peace deal is reached.
The block where ExxonMobil will drill in isn't among the areas Turkey claims.
"Any government issues, boundary disputes, border disputes, that's for governments to discuss and for governments to resolve and that's not ExxonMobil's business," said Chapman.
--- By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS , Associated Press