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Bulgarian foreign minister says Cyprus could be future natural gas supplier to central Europe

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NICOSIA, Cyprus - Bulgaria's foreign minister said Monday that Cyprus could eventually supply his country and other central European nations with natural gas to lessen the region's heavy dependence on Russian deliveries.

Kristian Vigenin said Cyprus could be key to an envisioned "north-south corridor" supplying gas to central Europe.

"Cyprus can play an important role in the project delivering gas to (liquefied natural gas) terminals in Greece and then from there this can bring gas up to Bulgaria, Romania and central Europe," Vigenin said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides.

Vigenin said Bulgaria can't fully replace Russian gas given its near total reliance on Moscow for the fossil fuel, but Cyprus could become a future supplier over the medium term. He cautioned much work remains to make that a reality.

Bulgaria imports around 106 billion cubic feet of gas annually. Cyprus has discovered one field off its southern coast estimated to hold 3.6 trillion to 6 trillion cubic feet of gas that US firm Noble energy and its Israeli partners Delek and Avner are looking to develop.

Cyprus has licensed industry giants Eni of Italy, South Korean Kogas and France's Total to look for oil and gas off its shores and wants to speed up the search.

Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said Monday that Eni has expedited exploration plans by several months and drilling — which is expected to start toward the end of summer — will last 12 to 18 months.

He said Total plans to start drilling in the second half of next year.

The east Mediterranean island nation is seeking to build its own land-based facility to process gas for export, but needs additional deposits to make the project viable over a 20-year period.

Lakkotrypis said Cyprus may also seek additional quantities of gas from neighbouring countries.

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