RPT-Turkey's shale gas hopes draw growing interest
* Several firms eye exploration licences, official say
* Southeastern region around Diyarbakir main prospect
* Major reserves could reduce reliance on imported energy
By Orhan Coskun and Evrim Ergin
ANKARA/ISTANBUL, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Turkey is hoping to find shale gas reserves big enough to help reduce its energy import dependency and is in talks with foreign firms about widening exploration after encouraging early signs, industry officials said on Monday.
The government is hoping that major shale gas reserves lie in basins in its southeast, east and western Thrace regions and officials say several firms, including smaller players already looking for conventional oil and gas, are keen to explore.
With domestic gas consumption rising and its geographic location meaning it is also well-placed to supply international markets, major exploitable reserves could be a game changer for Turkey's economy and highly lucrative for whoever finds them.
"We are keen to exploit this method and we must make economic use of shale gas," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told Reuters, saying it would be a priority for the near future. Continued...