Cyprus hopes to begin gas exports by 2018 and will target sales at fellow European Union members, Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis said yesterday.
He added that gas could be sold in advance or used to help the government to issue new debt on international markets in future.
US company Noble Energy and the Cyprus government announced in 2011 that they had discovered gas deposits of around 7-8 trillion cubic feet, 40% of the EU's annual demand.
Aphrodite, as the gas field is known, has more gas than Cyprus could use in over a century, so the government hopes to boost its revenues through exports to the European Union.
"It is important to us not just economically but also geo-strategically," Lakkotrypis told Reuters in an interview, referring to potential exploration partners.
"So EU member countries are obviously appealing." Lakkotrypis said the financial crisis had made development of the gas fields for exports much more urgent. The new government wished survey work had progressed faster to give Cyprus a stronger economic position and less need for a bailout.
"If it had been a year ahead, it would have made a real difference," he said.
To monetise its deposits as fast as possible, the government was pushing Noble Energy to bring forward appraisal drilling to confirm its gas findings, Lakkotrypis said.
"It's a pity we are under so much pressure.
Every week counts," he added.
Lakkotrypis said Cyprus was in the final months of deliberation over deals to run an onshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant to process the gas for export by ship. Lakkotrypis added that the government hoped production could begin as soon as 2018. Once an appraisal confirms initial findings there was a range of options on how to use the reserves to raise cash, including advance sales, he said.
Earlier this year, Cyprus announced the results of some of the second round of bidding for offshore exploration blocks, bringing France's Total, Italy's Eni and South Korea's KoGas into Cypriot energy exploration.
Cyprus's second licensing round, in which it received 15 expressions of interest by 29 companies either on their own or in consortia for 9 offshore blocks, will be wrapped up by the end of May.
So far five blocks have been awarded in the second round. Geologists believe the eastern Mediterranean could contain up to 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable reserves, enough to cover EU gas demand for around seven years.