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Hydrocarbons not part of reunification talks: energy minister

By Elias Hazou

The United States government has not proposed tabling hydrocarbons in the Cyprus peace talks, Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis said on Wednesday.

“Categorically, no. We have made it clear that this issue and the Cyprus talks are a completely separate matter,” Lakkotrypis told reporters coming out of a Cabinet meeting.

The Republic’s natural resources are and will remain the sole jurisdiction of the Republic, he added.

Earlier in the day, Lakkotrypis and energy ministry officials met with Amos Hochstein, US acting special envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs.

Lakkotrypis said he and Hochstein – who heads the Bureau of Energy Resources at the US Department of State – discussed Cyprus’ plans for developing and monetising hydrocarbons, the ongoing offshore drilling programme and the Turkish incursions into the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The minister said the Americans fully understand that the Turkish actions constitute a violation of Cyprus’ EEZ, and that during the meeting with Hochstein “it was made clear that the United States supports the Republic’s sovereign right to develop its hydrocarbon resources on the basis of international and national law.”

The two sides agreed to hold further meetings to discuss these issues over the coming months, Lakkotrypis said.

Any actions taken would be far from the public eye, he added, without elaborating.

“The Americans have posed the matter of seeking ways to de-escalate tensions [with Turkey]. Our response is that these ways must be sought with, and be directed at, the party which is causing these tensions, which is none other than the Turkish provocations,” he noted.

Also commenting on the same subject, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides denied local media reports that the Americans were either pressuring or “nudging” Nicosia to include hydrocarbons in reunification talks so as to defuse current tensions.

Hochstein, on a one-day visit here, also met with foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides. According to a press release issued by the US Embassy in Nicosia, Hochstein also met with energy experts and industry representatives.

“His one-day visit focused on sharing the U.S. experience in shifting from being an energy importer to an energy exporter and the impact new discoveries of hydrocarbons are having on global markets”, the press release read.

It is at least the second time the US State Department official has been on the island. He was among the delegation accompanying US Vice President Joe Biden during his visit in May.

As head of the Obama administration’s energy diplomacy, part of Hochstein’s job description is to work closely with European nations to help them become less dependent on Russian natural gas. Unrest in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East has added to concern about stability of the global oil market.

Turkey ramped up tensions in the eastern Mediterranean last month when it reserved a large swathe for seismic surveys inside Cyprus’ EEZ, prompting the President to break off peace talks with the Turkish Cypriots.

Ankara dispatched the vessel Barbaros to conduct seismic research on behalf of the breakaway regime.

The Barbaros is currently in offshore Block 3, laying undersea wires, reports said on Wednesday. It is being escorted by the Turkish warship Gelibolu.

In an apparent PR stunt, crews from two Turkish media outlets media outlets were allowed on board the Gelibolu, which is tracking the Barbaros, to film its activities.

According to a marine advisory issued by Turkey, the seismic surveys will run from October 20 to December 30. The area reserved does not overlap – but is in close proximity to – the area reserved by Cyprus for the ENI-KOGAS consortium, currently engaged in exploratory gas drilling in Block 9.

Meanwhile Lakkotrypis was also quizzed about Noble Energy’s announcement a day earlier that at this stage the company is focusing on regional pipelines, rather than an onshore LNG project, for monetising its own gas finds in offshore Block 12.

Noble’s announcement seemed to throw a spanner in the designs of the government, keen on constructing a land-based LNG terminal.

“We are looking at all the options for developing natural gas, in order to be ready for any eventuality,” Lakkotrypis said.

The preliminary results of ENI’s first gas well in Block 9 should be out within a matter of weeks, at which time the government would have a clearer picture on the amount of hydrocarbons resources and formulate its plans accordingly.

“We have a strategic plan in place that provides for a Plan B, a Plan B and a Plan C,” said Lakkotrypis.

Nicosia is hoping that substantial additional gas discoveries in other offshore plays may yet render viable an LNG facility. Noble’s discoveries so far in Block 12 are insufficient for an onshore LNG plant, although the US outfit has said it is planning additional drilling next year.

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