NICOSIA, July 11 (Reuters) - Italian energy company ENI will start exploratory drilling for natural gas off Cyprus in the second half of 2014, its chief executive said on Thursday.
ENI signed an exploration and production-sharing contract with the Cypriot government in early 2013 to search for hydrocarbons in three offshore areas.
Paolo Scaroni, ENI's chief executive officer, said the company would launch an exploratory drilling in one offshore block next year.
"We are focussed on gas, and we believe it is gas, but it might very well be oil as well," Scaroni told reporters after meeting senior Cypriot government officials and the president.
There have been huge natural gas finds in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years. Cyprus, which required an international financial bailout earlier this year, is keen to get revenue from gas flowing as soon as possible.
U.S. based Noble Energy is conducting an appraisal drill off the island to verify 2011 finds of a reservoir containing 5 to 8 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Noble's concession areas lies just south of the area that ENI plans to explore next year.
France's Total has also signed a production-sharing contract for offshore exploration with the Cypriot government.
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the Levant Basin, which lies largely in Cypriot and Israeli waters, holds around 3.5 trillion cubic metres of recoverable gas.