Eni official: East Mediterranean gas could supply Europe

The East Mediterranean could become a hub to export gas to Europe — and the fastest and cheapest way to do that is to utilize idle processing plants in Egypt, a senior executive with Italian energy company Eni said Wednesday.

Eni's Chief Exploration Officer Luca Bertelli told a gas conference in Cyprus that his company's recent discovery of a gas field southeast of Cyprus that contains "almost pure methane" has confirmed that there's potential for more gas discoveries in the region.

He said the Italian company plans to search for more gas off Cyprus in two other areas where it's licensed to carry out exploratory drilling.

He added that the simplest way to process the gas for export — especially to the regional big markets, Greece and Turkey — is utilizing underused processing plants in Egypt to liquefy the mineral for transport.

Bertelli said more gas discoveries are needed to ensure that there will be sufficient quantities over the long term. That would also make planned projects like a pipeline linking the East Mediterranean with Europe viable.

He cautioned that "pragmatic, realistic" steps are needed in exploration because "the area is geopolitically complex."

The executive didn't mention last month's move by Turkish warships to block a ship from carrying out exploratory drilling southeast of Cyprus, where Eni is also licensed to drill.

Turkey insists there can't be any "unileral" gas searches by ethnically divided Cyprus' Greek Cypriot-run government without the direct involvement of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

Cyprus' Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said that gas exploration will continue despite "Turkey's provocations."

He said negotiations to sell gas to Egypt from an earlier gas find inside Cypriot waters are "at an advanced stage."

ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum are also scheduled to drill southwest of Cyprus later this year.