Cyprus: offshore drilling license talks begin

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus' commerce minister says the government will open negotiations with oil and gas companies including Italy's ENI, South Korean KOGAS, France's Total and Russia's Novatek on granting them licenses to drill for gas deposits off the island's south coast.

Neoklis Sylikiotis says companies are seeking to drill in waters surrounding an area where U.S. firm Noble Energy last year said it discovered a gas field estimated at 5-8 trillion cubic feet (140-230 billion cubic meters). He said talks are expected to conclude next year.

Some 15 firms have expressed interest to drill off Cyprus as part of a second licensing round, despite Turkey's strong objections. Sylikiotis said Tuesday the government is still looking at other license bids to drill elsewhere off Cyprus, which is hard hit by Europe's financial crisis.

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