A natural gas deposit of 5 trillion to 8 trillion cubic feet has been located in an offshore Cyprus field, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias said on Wednesday.
This figure was based on what a government spokesman said was "a moderate estimate" by Noble Energy, a U.S. company that has just completed an exploratory drilling 165 km south of Cyprus.
The mean average of the gas deposits could be 7 trillion cubic feet, enough to cover Cyprus's needs for almost 200 years, Christofias said at a televised press conference.
He said the gas deposit was 100 meters thick and covered an area of 103 square km at a depth of 5,861 meters.
Noble Energy made a parallel announcement in Texas, revising its previous provisional estimate upward from an earlier figure of between 3 trillion and 8 trillion cubic feet.
The president said a second exploratory drill would be needed before exploitation could begin.
Plans for exploiting the gas involve building a 185-km pipe jointly with Israel to convey both Cypriot and Israeli gas to the south shore of the eastern Mediterranean island and setting up a liquidation plant at an estimated cost of 10 billion euros (13 billion U.S. dollars).
Liquefied gas would eventually be sent to countries of the European Union (EU) which are keen on securing alternate sources of energy.
Christofias called the finding a "historic development" which would create conditions of prosperity for Cyprus and its entire population.
This referred to the estranged Turkish Cypriot community in an enclave occupied by Turkey from 1974, reacting to a coup engineered by Greek army officers.
Gas exploration had been undertaken despite strong opposition by Turkey, which claimed that it violated the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
However, both the EU and the United States came out strongly in support of Cyprus and its rights to act within the scope of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Christofias called on Turkey to avoid what he termed adventurist action and respect Cyprus's sovereign rights in accordance with international law.
He added that the gas finding may re-unite the island and urged Turkey to work towards a solution of the long-standing Cyprus problem.
The president also announced that following the confirmation of the gas deposit, energy companies would soon be invited to a second round of bidding for the lease of hydrocarbons exploratory drilling rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone.