Cyprus picks Eni, Total, ExxonMobil for drilling talks

Cyprus's energy minister says negotiators will sit down with three oil and gas giants including a consortium made up of ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum to sort out the terms of licenses to drill for oil and gas off the east Mediterranean island's southern coast.

Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said Wednesday Italy's Eni will negotiate license terms for one offshore area, or block. A partnership between Eni and France's Total and the ExxonMobil-Qatar Petroleum consortium will negotiate for one block each. Talks are expected to conclude by the end of January or early February next year.

He said licenses will be valid for seven years.

Texas-based Noble Energy, which received a drilling license in an earlier round, discovered a gas field off Cyprus estimated to contain over four trillion cubic feet in reserves.