March 9 (Reuters) - France's Total is close to extending an offshore natural gas exploration program in Cyprus after coming up empty in prior surveys, the island's energy minister said on Monday.
Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has become particularly keen to develop offshore gas reserves as a potential source of revenue since it was compelled to seek an international financial bailout in early 2013.
"The renewed agreement that we hope we will be signing next week will be talking about doing geological surveys in a different area but no drilling," Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, the Cyprus energy minister, said while speaking at an event at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. "They can drill if they identify a drillable prospect, which unfortunately they have not done so far."
Total confirmed in January that it had completed surveys over two Cypriot offshore blocks for which it had licenses, without finding potential drilling targets.
Italy's ENI failed to find gas in a drill last year and is now searching elsewhere off Cyprus. U.S. energy company Noble found gas reserves in 2011.
Cyprus's neighbour Turkey has challenged the island's right to drill for gas, maintaining the island's estranged Turkish Cypriots have an equal claim. The island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 following a brief Greece-inspired coup.
Total is among a raft of international oil exploration and production companies, including BP and ConocoPhillips , that have slashed 2015 budgets in light of lower oil prices.
Drilling in the east Mediterranean is costly, because of its considerable depth. (Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Ken Wills)