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US urges Turkey to halt gas drilling off Cyprus coast

Washington — The US late Tuesday urged Turkey to end its natural gas drilling operations off the island nation of Cyprus, warning that such operations were boosting tensions in the region.

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"This provocative step raises tensions in the region," the US State Department said in a statement. "We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint and refrain from actions that increase tensions in the region."

The statement followed a European Union statement Monday that the Turkish drilling operation off Cyprus' coast was illegal, of "grave concern," and a "further unacceptable escalation which violates the sovereignty of Cyprus."

The Yavuz, a drillship of Turkey's upstream operator TPAO, left Istanbul on June 20. It reportedly began operations in the Bay of Famagusta within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claimed by the Republic of Cyprus this week. The EEZ is also claimed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

TPAO's first drillship, the Fatih, began drilling in early May in a region claimed by both Cyprus and Turkey as part of their EEZs. TPAO's seismic survey vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa has been surveying south of the island in the area of Cyprus' exploration blocks 1, 8, 9 and 12 for the past few months, raising fears that Turkey may also be planning to drill one or more of those blocks.

Block 1 is currently unallocated, while block 8 is held by Eni which has yet to conduct drilling. Block 9 has been drilled by an Eni-Kogas consortium but no commercial volumes were found, and block 12 is held by a consortium of Noble Energy, Shell, Delek and Avner and contains the Aphrodite gas field believed to contain around 200 Bcm of gas reserves.

"Energy resource development in the Eastern Mediterranean should foster cooperation, increase dialogue between the two communities and among regional neighbors, and provide a foundation for durable energy security and economic prosperity," State said Tuesday. "We continue to believe the island's oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement.

-- Brian Scheid,

-- Edited by Wendy Wells,