Noble's Cyprus gas drill at lower end of estimates

Reuters

* Cyprus gas find is third largest in Levantine Basin

* Reserves gross value three times Cyprus's GDP

* Authorities say committed to LNG terminal, want to avoiddelays

* Discovery boon for financially troubled island

By Michele Kambas

NICOSIA, Oct 3 (Reuters) - A landmark natural gas well offCyprus has produced less than anticipated, potentially delayinginvestment in a liquefied natural gas plant and plans for exportby 2020.

Cyprus and its exploration partners, Texas-based NobleEnergy, on Thursday announced an around 5 trillion cubicfeet (tcf) natural gas find, lowering the initial estimate of 7tcf made in late 2011.

One gas official said lower estimates could briefly delayplans to start work on a $6.0 billion liquefied natural gasterminal in 2016 until more wells off Cyprus are discovered, butthat could be avoided with further appraisals of the prospect.

Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said the island wascommitted to seeing the LNG project through.

Even though lower than expected, the discovery was a rareglimmer of good news for Cyprus. It teetered on the brink offinancial collapse in March with its one million inhabitantsbracing themselves for at least two years of deep recession froman EU/IMF imposed austerity programme.

"Despite the lower quantities we announce today compared tothose of 2011, the confirmed reserves affirm a particularlyimportant reserve of natural gas," Lakkotrypis told reporters.

He said a "very preliminary" estimate, based on reserves of4.5 tcf in Noble's prospect, placed its gross value at $50billion.

Cyprus's own GDP is about a third of that, and the find isjust one among 13 offshore blocks. Six of them are underconcession.

"We would be looking at a net profit for the Republic ofbetween $12 and $18 billion over a 14 year period," Lakkotrypissaid.

LNG PLAN STILL ON TABLE

Cyprus says there is much more gas waiting to be discovered.France's Total, Italy's ENI, and SouthKorea's KoGas planning exploratory drillings in other offshoreareas starting next year.

Noble is a leading partner in wells off neighbouring Israel,where there have been massive discoveries in recent years,attracting the attention of the European Union, which wants towean itself off over-reliance on Russian gas.

Cyprus is also in talks with Israel on its neighbour usingthe Cypriot LNG terminal to export Israeli gas.

"The LNG project we are working on with the governmentremains our strategic priority in terms of commercialising thegas," Noble country manager John Tomich told reporters.

However on its own, 5 tcf may be on the low side to get theball rolling imminently on the terminal, Charles Ellinas,executive president of Cyprus's natural gas company Kretyk toldReuters.

"It may be a bit too low to enable us to proceed with plansfor the LNG plant as formulated so far," he said.

If Israel decided to use Cyprus's terminal to export its own gas. the project would remain on schedule. If not, there couldbe a delay of between one and two years until further Cypriotdiscoveries come online, Ellinas said.

"The LNG plant idea doesn't go away, because it was made onthe basis of all six blocks (under concession)," Ellinas said.

The Noble reserve is the third-largest found in theLevantine Basin, a sea area between Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel.

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