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Tensions Mounting in Cyprus Over Oil, Gas Exploration Plans

Tensions are mounting between the Cyprus and Turkey over the island nation's plans to begin oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Drilling is scheduled to start in just six weeks.

At the heart of the dispute is how any revenues from the oil and natural gas exploration will be shared between Greek Cypriots, who control the internationally recognized government, and Turkish Cypriots in the north.

Turkey, which backs the Turkish Cypriots, says it objects to the drilling and says it will take action if the exploration goes ahead before a solution to the 37-year-old division of Cyprus is found.

Ankara claims that only a peace settlement between the two communities would ensure the Turkish Cypriot community’s share of any natural resources discovered.

The Cyprus government signed a production-sharing contract with U.S.-based Noble Energy to launch exploration activities in an 324,000-hectare economic zone southeast of the island which borders Israeli waters and where massive gas fields were found under the seabed.

Solon Kassinis, director of the Cyprus Energy Services, says all steps have been taken in accordance to international law.

"We are proceeding according to our sort of agreement with Nobel and the rig is going to start working about the first of October," said Kassinis. "They are going to start drilling to see what is happening underneath and see what exists down there."

Solon Kassinis also rejected claims that the Greek side would monopolize any revenue from what is discovered under the seabed.

"We are evaluating the situation of what will happen in case we find oil and I assure you that this is to be taken into serious consideration - and we are not only going to consider the present generations of legal citizens of Cyprus - all Greeks, Turks and many other nationalities who live here legally, but of course this is to consider the future generations as well," said Kassinis.

The island of Cyprus was split in a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup. Turkish Cypriots live in its north and Greek Cypriots in the south.

Some analysts say the oil and gas exploration will add extra pressure to the ongoing attempt to re-unite the island which has been at a virtual standstill for three years.