Egypt is speeding up talks with neighboring Cyprus to import natural gas for its domestic use and for possible re-export to other countries, the Egyptian petroleum minister said Tuesday.
Sherif Ismail said gas can be piped directly to Egypt from the field off Cyprus' southern coast that is estimated to hold 3.6 trillion to 6 trillion cubic feet of the fossil fuel.
"We can accommodate whatever gas we receive in both local market consumption and (liquefied natural gas) exports," Ismail said after meeting Cypriot Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis.
Ismail said Egypt has a shortfall of about 700 million cubic feet of gas. A preliminary study into the possible Cyprus-Egypt gas link should wrap up by the end of January, he said.
Cyprus is looking to tap energy reserves to help recover from a financial crisis. It touts itself as a new source of energy for Europe which is trying to lessen its dependence on Russian imports.
But Turkey opposes the gas search, insisting the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government cannot unilaterally exploit the ethnically split country's resources.
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned Tuesday that Turkey "would never allow" Greek Cypriots to turn the gas into "their monopoly."
"The Mediterranean is our sea too. No one can shut us out of the Mediterranean," Davutoglu said.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and is the only country to recognize a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence.
To make its point, Turkey has dispatched a warship-escorted research vessel in waters where Cyprus has already licensed companies to drill. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades responded by suspending United Nations-mediated reunification talks with Turkish Cypriots.
The Cypriot government has said Turkish Cypriots can share in the potential gas bounty and the mineral can be piped to Turkey only after a reunification accord is achieved, stressing that it can act as an incentive for peace.